Condale doesn’t exist, at least outside the heads of London duo Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Walmsley. It’s a make-believe subdivision of what the title track calls “slow-mo lines of leafy suburban streets” and, “a great place to raise kids, but they never will grow up.” If this — an imaginary American setting for teenage melodrama — sounds familiar, that’s intentional. Summer Camp’s debut album is an explicit homage, in style and content, to the lives and loves of Shermer, Illinois — the equally fictional setting of John Hughes’s canon of iconic ’80s films, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club and so forth.
Welcome To Condale is emphatically not, however, an exercise in jeering period kitsch. While it appropriates the tropes of the ’80s hits that filled the soundtracks of Hughes’s films — the somewhat cloying vocals, the verging-on-cheese synthesisers — it taps skillfully into the same essential melancholy from which the films profited, selling teenagers a heavily stylized portrait of an adolescence infinitely preferable to reality (this has, of course, been what pop music has done for decades, which is another reason Hughes’s films were so successful).
Summer Camp also bring native influences to bear. Producer Steve Mackey of Pulp is a link to the splendid tradition of electronic pop that exists in Pulp’s home city of Sheffield. Walmsley’s vocal on “Losing My Mind” is an obvious nod to The Human League’s Phil Oakey, and the propulsive guitars of “Brian Krakow” bear more than a whiff of Pulp’s own “Disco 2000.” The star throughout, however, is Sankey’s voice, which shares Jenny Lewis’s knack for sounding warm and sardonic at once. It’s no less a voice than pop songs as fine as “Down” and “Better Off Without You” deserve, and it can only be wondered what Summer Camp might accomplish if introduced to a proper recording budget, and Trevor Horn. Next time, perhaps.