Surprises are very seldom bestowed by Isobel Campbell, or by Mark Lanegan. Given just a picture to judge either party, you’d be able to tell what kind of music they’ve made their names for – she whimsical folksy tunes with Belle & Sebastian and The Gentle Waves, he rocky growls with The Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. Yet as a couple, they have formed the most remarkable of pairings, crafting an album of such beauty that past reference is made redundant.
Ballad of the Broken Seas, despite its deceptively bleak title, traverses arealm of styles which is striking as it is enchanting. Born of Campbell’sfascination with girl-guy couplings, namely Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood,and the more intense marriage of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, the albumwas conceived by a meeting between Campbell and Lanegan in Glasgow whenLanegan was on tour not long ago.
Much like the influences that went into it, the play between Campbell andLanegan is flawless. Campbell’s breathy, glacial whispers provide thecomplete equal to Lanegan’s signature drawl. Where Campbell drifts anddances, Lanegan follows dropping cigarette ash and spilling whiskey.
Campbell is not one to mope in the depths of despair, as her past work has illustrated. Yet the brief to writesome songs which Lanegan would sing couldn’t help but produce some morosetones.
From the rolling Latin symphony of the antiwar Deus Ibi Est, so begins ajourney through a distorted dream world: “Impending storm rise up rise up,oh demons I shall shame you, down the barrel of my gun and one by one I’llname you.”
Black Mountain capitalizes on Campbell’s proficiency with the cello and herScottish descent, which flake the album into folk, especially towards itsend. Album standout False Husband, has a desolate twang which shroudsLanegan while Campbell wafts around in shimmering violin and string work. Itcould easily soundtrack a Tarantino movie or, I daresay, Twin Peaks.
The Lanegan penned Revolver is a dramatic duet and one of the few where himand Campbell go toe to toe throughout. The rework of Hank Williams’ Ramblin’Man was the first single to be lifted, and a spectacularly seedy one atthat, featuring an Ann Summers’ whip as an instrument. It doesn’t really fitthe album in its context and is by no means an indicator of its sound.
The latter part of the album adopts a more optimistic and carefree tonewhich is dominated by Campbell. Honey Child What Can I Do? is so upliftingits difficult to remember Mark Lanegan is that happy sounding guy singingwith the girl.
Considering much of the album was made by Campbell posting tapes to Laneganto add vocals to, it reflects on the implicit chemistry of the pair thatthey could produce such a consummate, passionate and unerring affair. Onewonders what a long term relationship could produce.