Don’t let this record confuse you. The year is not 1988 and we are not living in a suburb of California. Summer Camp however, a London duo comprised of Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley, would love you to believe otherwise. Their’s is a John Hughes universe. Complete with creepy outcasts (‘I Want You’) and prom queen prudes (‘Last American Virgin’), Welcome To Condale is pure pastiche. So why not stick on The Breakfast Club soundtrack and be done with it? Well, this of course overlooks the pair’s songwriting talents. If you can strip back the layers of stylistic cliché, Summer Camp are for the most part a truly great pop band. Take the Eddie Cochran swagger of ‘Better Off Without You’, a song with hooks to spare, its kiss off chorus will be with you all year. The same can be said for ‘Brian Krakow’ and although Warmsley is the weaker of the two vocalists, his way around a tune here is undeniable.
Other tracks here are pleasant but forgettable. Previous release ‘Ghost Train’ and recent single ‘Down’ are not without their merits, but like any candyfloss pop it can feel a bit hollow. When Summer Camp dare to step out of their comfort zone, as in the case of the sinister dirge ‘I Want You’, the results are ultimately more rewarding. With Sankey coquettishly crooning from a psychotic perspective (“if I could I’d squeeze your hand so tight every knuckle would crack”) there’s a healthy sense of subversion lacking elsewhere.
As the celebratory synthpop of ‘1988’ fades into the distance (possibly as credits role on an arms aloft freeze-frame), Welcome To Condale comes to an end. A perfect example of the ‘Retromania’ lamented in Simon Reynold’s recent book of the same name, this record is nevertheless worth of your time and attention. Like the works of their favourite director, Summer Camp’s art is essentially light-entertainment. There is no great message behind these tales of teenage woe, but at their best you might convince yourself otherwise.