After a three year wait since their previous release No Blues, Los Campesinos! have returned with their sixth offering Sick Scenes. If you’re comparing Sick Scenes to their debut Hold On Now, Youngster, you might not think they were the products of the same band; if you listen to all of their albums in a row, there’s a beautiful gradient of sound and increased maturity. Sick Scenes is the natural progression of their sound.
Of course, there are some hallmarks of Los Campesinos! are never going to disappear – clever, intricate lyrics, niche football references and lines perfectly designed to be shouted back by crowds at their shows. A perfect example of the latter comes in the fast-paced opening track ‘Renato Dall’Ara (2008), with the line “let me level this as an indictment / only a part-time grass but a full-time asshole”. There’s also another ‘Heart Swells’ track entitled ‘A Litany/Heart Swells’ (2008’s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed had ‘Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time’ and 2010’s Romance Is Boring had ‘Heart Swells/100-1’), which retains the quiet melancholy we’ve come to expect from its previous iterations.
The overarching theme of Sick Scenes appears to be getting older (closing track ‘Hung Empty’ bears the lyric “not right to call this old age / but this certainly ain’t youth no more”) and mental health. Frenzied lead single ‘I Broke Up In Amarante’ deals with depression and self-medication set against a backdrop of Portugal, whilst ‘5 Flucloxacillin’ touches on the world’s current political unrest (“they said if they’d got the victory / they’d act with so much more humility / they said if they’d got the victory / well, I guess we’ll never know”), the generational divide between millennials and baby boomers and mental health. Los Campesinos! have never shied away from difficult topics, but on this offering it feels more raw and open than ever. Not that you’d be able to tell immediately, though – in a typical Los Campesinos! fashion, the words are wistful but the songs themselves are lively and ebullient. Adding some lightheartedness to the gloom is something they’ve always exceled at.
The scope of sound explored within Sick Scenes is wider than in the previous offerings from Los Campesinos!. ‘The Fall of Home’ is a delicate, acoustic lamentation of home towns left behind, juxtaposed against punchier, heavier tracks like ‘Sad Suppers’ and ‘I Broke Up In Amarante’. ‘Got Stendhal’s’ wouldn’t be out of place on previous album No Blues with its anthemic chorus (“I assembled former ghosts at a séance / said I missed ‘em, you only have to say it once”) and “Here’s To The Fourth Time!” shows some experimentation with synths before completely changing tone around two and a half minutes in, so much so that you might think it’s a different song. ‘A Slow, Slow Death’ is a slow-building centrepiece for the album, and ‘For Whom The Belly Tolls’ and ‘Hung Empty’ are classically Los Campesinos! with fast-paced, labyrinthine lyrics.
I’d try to choose some highlight, stand-out songs, but I’d end up just repeating the entire track list. Los Campesinos! have managed to create another album so distinctly them – unique, unorthodox and absolutely vital. Here’s to the sixth time.By Lucy McLaughlin