The Hidden Cameras

The Smell of Our Own

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With all the hype around the Hidden Cameras and their "gay folk church music," you'd think they were the second coming. Unlike their influences, such as the Magnetic Fields and Belle & Sebastian, who usually couch the nitty-gritty details of lust and sex in witty metaphors or avoid them altogether, Joel Gibb and company not only celebrate sex and its accompanying smells and stains, but inflate them to divine status on their second album, The Smell of Our Own. This is a worthy accomplishment -- too much indie rock and indie pop is notoriously phobic when it comes to singing about sex of any kind -- but it seems to be the main thing that differentiates the Hidden Cameras from the many other bands that use not only Belle & Sebastian and the Magnetic Fields, but Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and other purveyors of cleverly written symphonic pop as touchstones. That's on record, at least; the Cameras' legendary, theatrical performances -- which have been held in churches and adult theaters alike and feature strippers, films, and dancing galore -- would doubtlessly make the songs on The Smell of Our Own that much more technicolor-brilliant. Stripped of that context, the album almost sounds like an original cast recording of a musical -- the next best thing to being there, but not the same by a long shot. The album's best songs, such as "Ban Marriage," a subversively witty retort to the seemingly endless legal battles surrounding gay marriages and an exploration of how pointless marriage is in general, have enough substance on their own to make the transition from live spectacle to pop single relatively intact. Likewise, the triumphantly fey "Boys of Melody" and "The Man That I Am With My Man" capture the smutty idealism that's at the heart of the Hidden Cameras' agenda. However, most of The Smell of Our Own is just pleasant, sunny indie pop; even with lyrics as sexually free-thinking as "Smells Like Happiness"' "Happiness has a smell I inhale like a drug done in a darkened hall or a bathroom stall with a friend or a man with a hard-on," and not one but two songs about water sports, the music is still overwhelmingly traditional. This album brings back indie music's libido, which is certainly worth something; it's also possible that if the Cameras' music sounded as radical as its lyrics are, it wouldn't be nearly as well-received. Ultimately The Smell of Our Own is a very good, but not great, album. Perhaps next time the Hidden Cameras will go all the way -- so to speak -- and deliver something that's equally forward-thinking in its sexuality and its sound.

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