Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Ballad of the Broken Seas


First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2006, Volume 13, #5

Written by John Metzger


The pairing of former Belle & Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell with Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan is, at first glance, so improbably odd that it ought not to work. In fact, one expects that either Campbell will slather Laneganís musings in so much regal, chamber pop-infused innocence that it will undermine the gloom in which he seems to enjoy wallowing or, far more likely, that Laneganís dour, unsettling nature will extinguish, at any moment, Campbellís delicately flickering flame. Nevertheless ó aside from the absolutely lovely, but utterly ill-placed instrumental Itís Hard to Kill a Bad Thing ó neither party succumbs to the other on their first collaborative affair Ballad of the Broken Seas. Instead, the duo intertwines their differing approaches in such a playful fashion that they succeed surprisingly well at striking a perfect balance between their diametrically opposed personalities.

On the one hand, Campbellís optimistic vocals lend a ghostly white shimmer to Ballad of the Broken Seasí material; on the other hand, Laneganís boozy edginess drips with danger; and further enhancing the distance that divides them is the manner in which the album was recorded. Rather than uniting in a studio, Campbell and Lanegan utilized the internet to stitch together their individual contributions. Such impersonal interaction certainly would have derailed most outings, but here, it serves both to augment the duoís emotional estrangement from one another as well as to add a disquieting aura to their sexual taunts.

Itís precisely upon this dramatic tension that all of the arrangements on Ballad of the Broken Seas hang. The swells of piano and strings, the strum of acoustic guitar, and the gentle brush of percussion that accompany Campbell provide hope that frequently softens her mourning, while with Lanegan, the instrumentation appropriately turns jaggedly surly, leaving in its grungy wake a sense of dusky desolation. Not surprisingly, then, itís when Campbell and Lanegan sing in tandem, as they do on the albumís highlight The False Husband, that their union is most effective. Together, they turn sorrow into beauty and break the genre-specific molds to which each typically has been assigned. starstarstar Ĺ


Of Further Interest...

Antony and the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now

Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature

Ray LaMontagne - Trouble


Ballad of the Broken Seas is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2006 The Music Box