Dusted Reviews

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

Album: Ballad of the Broken Seas

Label: V2

Review date: Mar. 3, 2006

The result of a high-tech tape-trading spree between two artists from opposite ends of the earth, Ballad Of The Broken Seas riffs on a masculine and feminine narrative that is at once timeless and timeworn. With his elemental growl and rural gothic sensibility, ex-Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan sounds like he’s gargled on a hundred miles of bad road, while Isobel Campbell’s otherworldly coo reminds us why she’s Glasgow’s poster girl of twee. As solo performers, both singers fashion evocative set pieces that are often arresting but a bit monochromatic. Together, they make up for each others’ shortcomings by balancing his strum and twang with her sweetness and light. Recorded mostly in separate studios and stitched together via the internet, Ballad Of The Broken Seas is a collaboration built on contrasts and consonance.

Both artists draw from a deep well of other sources: Lanegan takes his old-as-the-hills country blues with a chaser of Nick Cave and Thin White Rope, while Campbell’s voice swoons with the breathless naivety of Claudine or early Marianne Faithful. It’s a fruitful and complimentary cross-pollination of styles, with Campbell tenderizing Lanegan’s rough edges, and Lanegan injecting a serrated edge into Campbell’s feather-lite soft rock tendencies. On tunes like “Revolver” and “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?,” Lanegan’s basso profundis ruminations sound better leavened by Campbell’s dulcet tones, his world weary tales of woe elevated by her frictionless wisp of a voice. The tension created between their voices adds a layer of depth and emotional range often absent in their solo recordings.

Everything on Ballad Of The Broken Seas is tastefully arranged without being overdone, with elegant string sections washing over brooding Morriconesque guitar lines. At times, Campbell and Lanegan tend to overly worship their musical precursors. “Deus Ibi Est” and “The False Husband” borrow mightily from the Lee & Nancy template, while “Ramblin’ Man” apes the clangor and languor of classic Tom Waits. A folk ballad called “Black Mountain” is spoiled by a melody that is simply too close to “Scarborough Fair.” And the title track has Lanegan trying to maintain his gravitas while tossing off clichés like ”drown in an ocean of tears” (and, of course, rhyming that with ‘beers’).

The best songs here are often the most offhand. “Saturday’s Gone” sports a wonderfully understated wood block and chimes figure and sounds a bit like Black Box Recorder, while “Dusty Wreath” is a charmingly slight chamber piece that could’ve been lifted off the Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack, all saccharine creepiness and childlike piano twinkles. In the end, there is nothing too paradigm-shifting to be found here, just a nice genre pastiche from two unique talents who won’t disappoint their fans.

By Lawrence Lui

Read More

View all articles by Lawrence Lui

Find out more about V2

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.