Underachievers Please Try Harder is the second studio album by the Scottish indie pop band Camera Obscura. It was originally released on November 11, 2003 on Elefant Records out of Spain. Since the original CD and vinyl pressings, it’s received worldwide release including Japan on Imperial Records, Merge in the US, among a few others.
Twenty years later, there have only been two vinyl pressings. One from its original label in 2003, and one on Merge in 2008. Given we are at the 20th anniversary milestone, don’t be surprised if we see a third arrive this year on Merge—but then again lead singer Tracyanne Campbell has been teasing a vinyl reissue of the band’s long out of print debut LP Bigger Bluer Hi Fi for a few years now…
Alas, I’m here to talk about Underachievers Please Try Harder.
Top Camera Obscura Tracks
The album features several of my favorite tracks from the band, including some that drew me to Camera Obscura in the first place like “Teenager,” “Suspended from Class,” and “Lunar Sea.” The first two were released as singles. “Teenager” was released as a 7″ vinyl single in 2002, while “Suspended from Class” was released as a CD single in 2003, and “Books Written for Girls” was also released as a 7″ vinyl single in 2004.
Here’s the video for “Teenager:”
Scottish Indie Pop
Underachievers Please Try Harder has a certain charm to it that only a specific style of indie pop can achieve. In fact, early Camera Obscura harkened back to the early days of fellow contemporary Scottish indie pop band Belle And Sebastian. So much so that I’m continually surprised it wasn’t released in the late 90s as opposed to early 00s—in fact, Belle And Sebastian band leader Stuart Murdoch is credited as photographer on the album!
The album was produced by Geoff Allan, who has worked with bands like Arab Strap, The Gentle Waves, and Isobell Campbell on the production end, and adding in The Delgados, Mogwai, and Mercury Rev on the technical side.
Ultimately, the result is reminiscent of other indie pop bands like the aforementioned Belle and Sebastian or even The Magnetic Fields.
Camera Obscura’s Best Album?
Tracyanne Campbell’s melancholic yet romantic-tinged vocals and poetic songwriting often explore themes of love, loss, and longing. Both sweet and soulful, she built upon what originated on Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, heightening the production value and resulting in something a bit more baroque than twee, yet flirting with both indie pop sounds remained a defining characteristic of the band’s sound.
Overall, Underachievers Please Try Harder is a charming and melodic indie pop album that finds Camera Obscura at their height. Yes, the albums that pad it on either side are phenomenal, those being Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi from 2001 and Let’s Get Out of This Country from 2006. And while that which came after was good, it wasn’t great to the level of these early albums; they never seemed to regain the seemingly effortlessness they achieved with those first three.
Check out my video review of the album below and let me know where it stacks up among the other album by Camera Obscura for you in the comments below.