At the time of recording Romance is Boring, Cardiff indie-pop band Los Campesinos! were fully in the mindset that previous release We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was not the “true” second album. Whilst that album felt like it was progress for the band, it would be during this record that they’d nail their sound perfectly. Ten years on, the band’s now officially classified “third” album still stands up as a masterpiece of British indie from the early 2000s.
Driving out into the middle of the desert at night, LC! drag the “twee” label they gained during their first album out to the desert, shoot it dead, dig a shallow grave and dump it there forever. Here we have a growing melancholic darkness that echoes throughout each song, turning what you believed was the “Los Campesinos! sound” from previous releases on its head. Playing this alongside debut Hold On Now, Youngster shows both a similar and different band.
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Around the time of promoting the album, Gareth stated that it was about “sex, death and football”. A universal term that describes songs about unrequited lust, a generally pessimistic view of relationships, becoming a star footballer for a foreign country, and just general unhealthy relationships and their toll on the people in them. There are no love songs here, but there are songs about relationships. It is all encompassed by the album title, in how a lot of the point of views in the songs are down to the idea that the concept of romance is boring – and that the basic need for people is to satiate lust.
Opener ‘In Media Res’ introduces us to what the album is going to be full of: witty dark metaphors and screwed looks on life. Title track ‘Romance is Boring’ continues this by expanding the idea that the narrator isn’t too proactive in trying to prove his own view on romance. Yet the viewpoint he wants to prove is the dull nature of romance, but remains lethargic. The first part of the album concludes with the wonderfully manic punky shout-fest that is ‘Plan A’, in which Gareth reveals what his original plan for his life was – being in a band was Plan B. It’s a well structured tale of being so good at football that he goes to Malta to play for them and then becomes the greatest Maltese footballer of all time, having his partner’s face on their currency. All in two minutes. Epic.
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With the two-part ‘200-102′ and ‘Straight in at 101’, Gareth unleashes another lyrically dense song on sexual frustration. The relationship from the previous songs is now at breaking point, but the impact of the event is not even a blip on anyone’s radar. This is likened to the numerous shows on television that have D-List celebrities talking about relationships and that theirs wasn’t even worthy of discussion. ‘Who Fell Asleep In’ reveals more about the battle of lust versus religion that the relationship had to deal with, and the immediate psychological aftermath is dealt with in ‘I Warned You: Do Not Make an Enemy of Me’. This leads to the second small break of ‘Heart Swells/100-1′ in which the narrator is now alone, haunted by the memories and impact of the (now) ex-partner.
Then, from here on out, is the highest quality run of songs on any LC! album to date. “I am writing this at 7:10am,” starts ‘I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know’. Having to get all this written down and open and unleashed, the song now delves into the grieving process of a relationship that is no longer. But then goes into descriptions of vivid events, playing more into the storytelling skills of Gareth’s lyrics. This leads to ‘A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State; or, Letters from Me to Charlotte’; a song about unrequited lust of a close friend that will never get resolved, and the moment the friendship breaks down because this fact becomes known.
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With that, the album opens up to reveal its best song, also a candidate for one of the best indie songs of all time in ‘The Sea Is A Good Place to Think of the Future’; a song about the narrator’s relationship with a girl who self-harms and has a strong nihilistic view on life. The words are poetic yet build the narrative at the right pace, giving the listener a real view of the girl in question, the metaphor of the meaning of life linked to the tide of the sea, and how you can drift away from one place and end up somewhere else. The music builds up with the intensity of the lyrical delivery, and then Gareth throws his own spin on the imagery by turning around at the beautiful scenery to remind himself he’s at a seaside resort. It doesn’t sound that powerful when describing it, but combined with the music and the delivery of the vocal it provides a memorable visual to maximise its impact.
In an album full of twists, album closer ‘Coda: A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Sooner State’ plays out and is the darkest song on the album. The implication that the female from the previous songs has committed suicide and we’re hearing the immediate impact of grief from the narrator.
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Romance is Boring ends on that dark note, but as the closing lyrics show, the album has been just one person’s viewpoint throughout this relationship. There’s a reflection in the closing refrain that gives the listener an open ending to the story being told. Romance may be boring, but people still are complex and how they relate to each other may be the most fascinating thing in the world. Every song contains elements of commentary on relationships and the intricacies of compatibility. Taken at face value, we’ve really been given a subjective view on things and it’s only at the end that we’ve objectively seen the consequences of things.
A masterpiece of songwriting and rewarding repeated listens, Romance is Boring shows the band reaching a strong sense of maturity and direction. It’s the crowning piece of their discography, and whilst that may suggest it’s downhill from here, it is not the case.
Romance Is Boring 10 year remastered edition is out on 14th February.