Categorized | Album Reviews

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Devil Dirt

Posted on 28 April 2008 by Jude Clarke

Mark Lanegan is surely one of the great collaborators of our time. The ex-Screaming Trees lead singer has worked with QOTSA, with Greg Dulli (ex-Afghan Whigs) as The Twilight Singers and more recently The Gutter Twins, with Soulsavers, and on one previous album with Isobel Campbell. Then there’s the several solo albums, the latest of which, 2004’s Bubblegum itself features a long list of contributers including Polly Harvey, Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin. He now returns once again with girlie “foil” Campbell (ex-Belle and Sebastian). Their first collaborative album – Ballad of the Broken Seas - was critically acclaimed and Mercury Prize nominated. The experience obviously proving sufficiently satisfying to both artists to make them now return for a second bite of the cherry.

Not having listened to the former (although I may well retrospectively go back and explore it now…) I can’t offer any first vs second album comparisons. The initial thing that struck me, coming to this release as a Campbell/Lanegan newbie, was that it sounded very much the way I would have imagined it. By this I mean: Lanegan’s growling vocal delivery (at its most astonishingly deep and whispery on ‘The Raven’; in its more user-friendly mellow and tuneful form on ‘Something to Believe’), mixed with Campbell’s slightly underwhelming ephemeral sweetness - her gothic imagery and subject matter (sample: “My self-esteem / Twisted and crushed / Black metal and bones” from ‘Who Built The Road’) and so on. Often seeming more like a Mark Lanegan album with Campbell providing backing vocals than a proper collaboration worthy of joint-billing, the two voices combine more successfully on some tracks (’Salvation’, ‘Who Built the Road’) than others (notably ‘The Flame That Burns’, where it is actually quite difficult to make out the words in the bits that Campbell sings). Subject matter ranges from the traditionally lovelorn (’Keep Me In Mind, Sweetheart’) or raunchy/seductive (’Come on Over (Turn Me On)’, ‘Shotgun Blues’), through to dark fantasy and fable (’The Raven’ and ‘Seafaring Song’ – possibly based on The Oddyssey).

Musically there is a nice mixing of styles from song to song, always inclining towards the old-fashioned in some way. So, there is an obvious blues template for the impressive ‘Salvation’, the slightly over-egged ‘Back Burner’, and the pretty distasteful ‘Shotgun Blues’ (listening to Campbell sing, breathily, lines like “Ooh Daddy / Laying on my bed” and “Love to hear you moan” etc is, frankly, a little creepy). ‘Come On Over (Turn Me On)’ makes like a showtune, the beginning bars and lush strings made me think of ‘I Put a Spell On You’. ‘Keep Me In Mind, Sweetheart’ is a lovely, straightforward folk love song, and the rather weak closing track ‘Sally, Don’t You Cry’ reminded me, in structure if not in subject matter, of a hymn.

Best of all though is ‘Trouble’. A really beautiful, sombre yet uplifting track, given an extra lift by the inclusion of organ and some brass. This was the highlight of the album for me, and it was also perhaps significant that this is one of the tracks where Campbell’s vocal is clearer and stronger in the mix.

This is certainly an interesting combination of two extremely different voices, which has produced some gems, much that is enjoyable and only the one outright dud. Now: who can lend me Ballad of the Broken Seas?

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan [myspace]

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