Much like Denver duo Tennis, Summer Camp‘s core is a married couple who founded their band on a sunshiney gimmick too twee to deny. Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley started Summer Camp under the (eventually revealed to be false) story that the band was the union of two former camp-mates reunited years later. And, much like Tennis, Warmsley and Sankey have had to work hard to establish an identity for themselves once the goodwill derived solely from their story’s charm ran out. On Bad Love, the duo struggle without a compelling narrative, delivering a heavy-handed album of high-gloss heartbreak.
“My love wasn’t good enough for you, yeah/ My love was never enough,” Warmsley starts innocently enough on the opening title track, before delivering the cliche blow: “It ripped you open and it tore you in two/ It was bad love.” Those opening lines outline both the highs and lows of Summer Camp’s niche on this album. Hearing a couple air out relationship pain is exciting; whether it’s fictive or genuine, they deliver it with the requisite passion. Their language for doing so, however, just isn’t very interesting. If a friend was spilling the details of a breakup and told you “it was bad love,” you’d raise an eyebrow and demand a better explanation.
Sonically, the album relishes its ’80s influences, pairing Warmsley’s plush croon and Sankey’s soaring coo with glittering synth, rubbery bass, and throaty guitars. “You’re Gone” lets a starry synth tinkle over distorted guitar chug, but then a dreamy pitch-shifted spoken word outro stops cold the dance-til-you-stop-crying rush. The swaying “Drive Past My House” is the album’s apex, Sankey disappearing into “another town, another dream” over John Hughes sweetness.
Even indulging its Craigslist Missed Connection-via-new wave lean, “Beautiful” is similarly marred by bland lyrical choices: “It would take me a million thousand hours just to tell you what’s in my heart,” Sankey sings, instead of saying anything. That lack of specificity blunts the potential trauma of Bad Love’s heartbreak, the trauma that its well-apportioned, dramatic music demands.
Essential Tracks: “Drive Past My House”