AS ANYONE who's followed the rise of Arctic Monkeys will know, pop moves frighteningly quick these days. You can be unknown one month, proclaimed the new big thing the next, at number one a month or two later, and - if your first releases don't live up to expectations - watch your star rapidly fall after that. Then bang: labels, fans, writers and DJs are off looking for the new you. There are, after all, thousands of new yous on My Space, just waiting to be discovered.
In fast times like these, who on earth will give the new Camera Obscura album a chance? The Glasgow indie veterans mark their tenth anniversary this year ("I should get a watch or something," jokes Tracyanne Campbell, who sings and writes all their songs) and they don't have a huge amount to show for it. Yes, the late John Peel championed them for years - they played at his last ever birthday party - and they have done well enough in America to headline tours, but mainstream success has never really come, and neither have ecstatic reviews. They have also been dogged by the constant - often justified - accusation that they are a less inspired, even more twee clone of Belle and Sebastian. Being slightly perverse sorts, they responded with an album ironically titled Underachievers Please Try Harder.
Have I put you off Camera Obscura yet? Here's the twist. A little unexpectedly, their new album, Let's Get Out Of This Country, is wonderful, a bold, glorious, refreshing, shimmering, bittersweet pop record that leaves you not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or just dance. It even has a theme - the desire to escape a mundane life (the title track's chorus: "What's this city got to offer me? Everyone else thinks it's the bee's knees,") and the loneliness when you do escape ("I won't be seeing you for a long while, I hope it's not as long as these country miles; I feel lost," on Country Mile). It's witty too - the first single, Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken, is a cheeky response to Lloyd Cole's Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? that is better than Cole's original. Best of all, B&S comparisons can finally be consigned to the dustbin. While their influences are obvious, for the first time Camera Obscura sound like themselves. It's one of the best albums released this year, and - if you're reading this, Simon Frith - a worthy contender for the Mercury Prize shortlist.
How did this happen? A key factor is Jari Haapalainen, the album's Swedish producer. "It wasn't like we sat down one day and said, 'we'd better smarten our act up,'" says Campbell, sipping a dry Martini in Glasgow's Ubiquitous Chip, "but I didn't want to make another album without a producer. What we could do in a studio ourselves wasn't good enough." Before, she says, because all of the band have day jobs, "we used to go in at weekends ... so the songs wouldn't stick together. When we had 11 songs recorded, we'd say, 'that's it, we've got an album now.'" This time, the band went to Stockholm, and experimented with Haapalainen before recording. "It was the best move we ever made. There was a lot on the line, we were taking a chance, and I think everybody just felt we were a team for the first time. Before, we'd just make a record and think, yeah, that's nice, do you think people will like it? This time we're thinking, people are going to like it."
Another factor is Campbell herself. A sometimes awkward, self-conscious lyricist on previous albums, she is a revelation on this one, frank and direct about lost love and infidelity. "This time the songs are definitely very personal. There were a couple of things that happened. My grandmother died and I split up with my boyfriend. And people can tell. They say, 'you've had a split, haven't you?'" You certainly can tell. Once as deadpan a singer as the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, Campbell's voice quivers with real emotion on Country Mile, a song about the raw ache of missing a far away lover ("I wish that you were here with me, I would show you off like a trophy.") I ask her if her ex-boyfriend has heard it. "He hasn't said he has," she replies carefully. "I hope it's not hurtful. By the end of the record I wasn't bitter, and that's another thing the record did, it helped me get over that." Country Mile was written, fittingly given its subject, on a car journey from Stockholm city centre to the airport, Campbell singing into her phone.
"I have absolutely fallen in love with Stockholm," says Campbell. This is good to hear, since she has fallen out of love with Glasgow. "The year spent making this record I was just quite unhappy," she says. "I started to think, what am I doing here? This place doesn't excite me anymore." Hence the album's title - a riposte to her home city's glowing reputation, particularly for its music scene. "People do go on about it as if it's the best thing since sliced bread, and it is to a lot of people. I don't know, I don't listen to bands from Glasgow." She sighs, then laughs. "I'd better watch my mouth or people will start throwing rotten fruit at me."
Hopefully not. But Camera Obscura sound like a band who have outgrown their surroundings, so if Scotland is going to learn to love them, it might have to be quick. Campbell sounds more excited about being in Sweden, or America, where the band will tour again next month, than their Glasgow shows. "Glasgow's still a bit ..." she begins. "Oh, I don't know what it's going to be like. I think they like us but it's never crazy or anything. In other places it is. Judging from e-mails we're very popular in Chile and Argentina. What's that about?"
• Let's Get Out of This Country is released on Monday on Elefant records. Camera Obscura play the QMU, Glasgow, 17 June, and the Tunnels, Aberdeen, 19 June.