Album Reviews

Isobel Campbell – Bow To Love

(Cooking Vinyl) UK release date: 17 May 2024

A collection of cool, breezy pop songs underlaid with unexpected steel, here lies soothing balm for a troubled world

Isobel Campbell - Bow To Love Isobel Campbell has had quite the journey over the last 30 years or so. Beginning with her early days as a founder member of Belle and Sebastian, before collaborating with the likes of Bill Wells and Snow Patrol and, of course, arguably her creative peak, recording three albums with the late grunge icon Mark Lanegan.

It was only in 2020 that Campbell resurfaced after nearly a decade of disputes with record labels, with There Is No Other, an about-turn from her work with Lanegan and a return to the understated, quiet indie-folk she made her name with. It was unfortunate that There Is No Other was released at the beginning of a global pandemic, as it deserved to be more of a hit than it actually was.

That issue can be set straight now though with Campbell’s fifth solo album. Bow To Love picks up where There Is No Other left off – a collection of cool, breezy pop songs that have an unexpected steel underneath them. That steel is exemplified by the opening Everything Falls Apart, which sees Campbell gently singing “everything falls apart, you son of a bitch”. Described by Campbell as an “elegy to the patriarchy”, there’s a hazy feel to the song, which pops up repeatedly through the album.

Do Or Die is introduced by a gently plucked guitar and some whispery vocals from Campbell, who even manages to quote Star Wars’ Yoda in the chorus: “do or do not, there is no try, it’s do or die”. Later in the album, 4316 brings the tempo up a notch, employing a sunny, 60s pop feeling – there’s a darkness underscoring this more upbeat mood though, with lyrics that veer on despondent as Campbell frets about the world: “4316 and the world is a mess” runs the deceptively cheery chorus.

Dopamine is as pleasurable and narcotic as its title would suggest, simply a languid ballad which shows off Campbell’s soft vocals to their best effect, while Take This Poison is achingly dramatic and tense, a droning synth underscoring Campbell’s voice as she intones “drink it down, breath out fear”. It all feels strangely portentous at times.

Although Bow To Love is not a particularly strident album, there’s a quiet political element to it at times. Keep Calm Carry On was written in the wake of the Brexit vote, and the way Campbell gently sings “Go back to where you came from, go back to where you don’t belong” is lulling and chilling at the same time. The shuffling rhythms of the title track looks at the state of the world and decides that “it’s not enough to bow to love”, but the folk/country arrangements mean that it never becomes too bleak to listen to.

A faithful cover of the Dire Straits song Why Worry rounds off the album, and pretty much encapsulates the message of the record as a whole: “Why worry, there should be laughter after pain, there should be sunshine after rain”. Some people may find the pace of Bow To Love a bit too pedestrian, but most of the time, Campbell’s music feels like a soothing balm for a troubled world.

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