It’s difficult to know whether we should describe Soulsavers as a ‘rags to riches’ story – as that would imply they had found true happiness. Their music would beg to differ – and for many Broken will prove to be a heavy, leaden weight, difficult to listen to as a pick me up in the evening.
Yet don’t let that put you off, as in reality this is a step up even from previous album It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land. When that was released the duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover were at a musical crossroads, proving their worth as composers of exceptionally well scored music without having an audience to play it to.
Which is where the tortured soul of Mark Lanegan comes in. While on the last album his was an occasional if highly emotive bit part, this is the record where he shows he’s in it for the long haul.
Machin and Glover respond appropriately, their instrumentation taken to a higher level with more input from the former’s guitar, frenzied as it cuts across Unbalanced Pieces, twisted yet sharply concentrated as it leads the same song to a higher place, from where elegant strings lead it home.
Lanegan is on superb form as he enters stage left for Death Bells, still in search of salvation. “Death bells are ringing Lord”, he proclaims, “ringing in my head”. Yet while the tone is dark it is strangely and spiritually uplifting music, as if the singer is exorcising his own demons through the medium of song, finding relief from all sorts of dark secrets and pains. And Lanegan of all people should know – he’s had a few.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. You’ll Miss Me When I Burn not as morbid as it sounds, a surprisingly graceful lullaby, enhanced by the soothing backing vocals and wandering piano. Shadows Fall is vaguely reminiscent of Robbie Robertson, and offers comfort in the lyric “when shadows fall from above, stay close to me my love”.
A further masterstroke is to not quite leave all the soul searching to Lanegan, and introduce another vocalist, Red Ghost, towards the end. Her voice is a pleasant comfort in Praying Ground, but by Rolling Sky is unsettling company. This disorientating duet with Lanegan flies in the face of any attempts to pin it down, fractured saxophone riffs gathering ominously as the harmonies find no place to rest. It’s all rather disturbing.
The cello that starts Wise Blood provides the antidote to this, with a sense of closing credits as it gradually grows to a whole string section that lifts from the ground.
While the two outer instrumentals are undeniably moving, this record is definitely Mark Lanegan’s. There is no voice quite like his – and none that leaves the same impact. When he’s gone the imprint of his words remain, scorched into the already burning sand.