The break-up album is a hard one to nail. For every lustrous, wallowing ‘Boatman's Call' (Nick Cave), there's a fist-in-mouth bad 'Margins' (Paul Smith). So, when Gareth Campesinos! wrote that fourth album 'Hello Sadness' comprises "ten songs of love, loss and heartbreak nail-gunned to a backdrop of broken, tangled bodies, creeping, dead-eyed animals, suffocating, looming shadows and World Cup exits", well, it's fair to say that we sucked air through our teeth.
After all, this is a man famed for singing sensitive, romantic lines like, "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock / Feel like the build-up takes forever but you never touch my cock". Indeed. So then, let's give 'Hello Sadness' a whirl to see if it's a Kleenex and cuddles break-up fellow, or the cold hard truth friend ready to slap your arse and push you back onto the dancefloor.
'By Your Hand'
The first single - you know this one.
'Songs About Your Girlfriend'
Definitely something of break-up fist-pumper, this one's hung around a riffy little guitar line, whistling and cawing in the background, as Gareth recalls how "She never made me smile like that". It's a spat and knotted listen, which makes LC!'s trademark zingy xylophone sound ironically applied…
"A wishbone hangs between your breasts, I hope you haven't pulled it yet" goes the opening line to this song, in a record where bodily parts are routinely compared to inanimate objects, and given ritualistic significance - like this good luck charm. Gareth's voice is incredibly snotty, railing about how even though it's "hope that springs eternal, it's dripping from my broken heart, it's never running dry". It's on this song that NME suffered one of the most nauseating mishearing incidents ever, one to add to the canons of "Excuse me whilst I kiss this guy", "Who's gonna sit on your face when I'm gone?" and the like. It SOUNDS as though Gareth is singing, "I wear a ring of your lipstick around the knuckle of my foreskin". EWW. Actually, it's "I wear a ring of your lipstick around the knuckle of my fourth digit". PHEW. I told Gareth on Twitter, and even he admitted that it made him feel "a little sickly". Moving swiftly on!
'Life Is A Long Time'
Oh WOE is LC!, will you just look at that title! A skittering, cathartic thing, this song feels like it's running far from something - possibly Gareth's slightly Metaphors 101 lyrics, which compare his brown eyes to "two pools of mud resting in two dark moons" and her eyes to "the deepest and the warmest sea".
'Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions)'
Something of a celestial smash, this one, as xylophones are pounded as if by Thor's hammer, and Gareth rips apart his rotting body: "I am not a crutch, though my knees are rife with woodworm", "A childhood of fingernails that rip my throat to shreds". It's heavy stuff, but looking at that title, it could just as well be about England getting knocked out of the World Cup. (Which one? Well, all of them.)
'Hate For The Island'
Seemingly tracing a journey through shared places - "your window panes", "a public loo in a Borough of London (they did call their last album 'Romance Is Boring' after all) - 'Hate For The Island' marks the point where the record starts to loosen up, where the tangle of violin and guitar and xylophone isn't quite so fraught. Heck, this song almost embraces a slight half-time emo sway.
'The Black Bird, The Dark Slope'
The production on this one gets a little muddied - you can just about pick out Gareth railing about "the blackbird [which] sits atop my guts" which "wants to rip [him] limb from limb", though it's hard to pick out any other lyrics or subtleties among the heavy production maelstrom.
Correct us if we're wrong, but to these ears, 'To Tundra' sounds an awful lot like a Christmas song, with icy winds blowing between sluggish slumps of guitars, and Gareth asking someone to promise, "Meet me at St Nicholas". If we're right, then that seems like a strange choice, to have a Christmas song in the middle of a non-seasonal album, but nonetheless, it's one of the prettiest, most heartbreaking songs on the record. "Take a body to water… Just take me with you as well," he pleads.
'Baby I Got the Death Rattle'
Production firmly stripped back, this song's all quivering Newsom harp and rolling, tender piano. Gareth's voice ricochets between headphones/speakers like evidence of some split personality that's stopping him knowing exactly what to do (not that making decisions about dying relationships are often easy). In the statement he made about the record, he said, "It is an honest, bare bones documentation of breaking up and trying not to break up in the process," which really comes through here. Again, a Chrimbletide theme shines through, as Gareth steals nativity characters for the analogy, "You are an angel, that's why you pray, and I am an ass, and that's why I bray".
'Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt II'
An epic closer here, as Gareth once again transfers inanimate objects onto bodily functions: "I part the curtains of your hair/And all the light of the sun floods the room/Poured from your sleepy stare/Two seconds each morning/Without fail before I Enter the abattoir to see my insides hanging there". Don't be fooled thinking we're in proper tender territory, however - just at the crux of it all, the apex of heartbreak, the final death knoll. Gareth sings, "The pain of the silence before bed/Oh, for the sound of your pissing through the thin walls/Or stroking your hair". Naww.
Although Gareth's penchant for smut might occasionally linger like your pervy little brother trying to spy on your mates, 'Hello Sadness' certainly shows maturity, particularly in the way it's constructed, as we pointed out regarding the themes of bodies being transformed by other functions. It's certainly a record of two parts too - the second half is noticeably calmer, and far sadder than the first, mirroring the phases of a break-up - rage followed by regret. A keeper, we reckon, though certainly an album that needs repeated listens to sink in fully.