Reviews for Ballad of the Broken Seas

From Your Flesh:


Ballad of the Broken Seas pairs ex-Belle and Sebastian belle Isobel Campbell with journeyman Mark Lanegan, and the interesting-on-paper combination proves just as compelling through the speakers. Fans of one and not the other will have to make some concessions, as both personalities—Lanegan’s dustbowl junkie and Campbell’s pixie chick—are equally represented. But the styles compliment each other so well that the sum of these parts creates a unique and effortless hybrid, resulting in a timeless sounding record ideal for road trips and cheap motel rooms. Lanegan particularly shines with his dry vocals adding a flasher’s cackle to Campbell’s tendency toward the twee, suggesting a kind of play-acted unwholesomeness, or Lee and Nancy re-imagined as a hard luck couple of aging Goths. [V2]

-James Jackson Toth

From Irish Times:

Former Belle & Sebastian singer Campbell and one-time Screaming Trees and part-time Queens of the Stone Age vocalist Lanegan come together in a most unusual fashion. This Beauty and the Beast approach has been used before, not least the pairing of Nancy Sinatra with Lee Hazlewood, on whose musical template of sunbleached psychedelic folk/pop Ballad of the Broken Seas is clearly founded. Part dustbowl (Lanegan) and part folk/country (Campbell), the album sidesteps easy listening by virtue of Lanegan's crusty singing, and the arrangements, which reference Morricone's barroom western soundscapes, genteel Scottish lilts and a curious but very engaging hybrid of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, a few bottles of beer and female company.

From The Guardian:

Even as a lonely hearts ad it sounds unlikely: ethereal Scottish chanteuse seeks grunge rocker for long-distance one-night stand. Add vocalists Isobel Campbell (ex-Belle and Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age) and you've got the most unlikely fling since Nick Cave convinced Kylie to sing a murder ballad. Stranger still, the traditional scenario of aging male svengali bending a bright young thing to his lascivious will is turned on its head; as Lanegan surmises in Deus Ibi Est: "I march to the beat of someone else's drum." The Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood-inspired vision is Campbell's and she pulls all the kitschy strings on these duets. Having written most of the tracks, Campbell produced the album in Glasgow, with Lanegan adding vocals in LA.

Their voices are separated by more than an ocean. Feather light and swimming in echo, Campbell sounds like a teenage ghost, as sweet and innocent as she is sensual and manipulative. She doesn't so much sing words as inhabit a celestial space above the acoustic guitars, violin and cellos within the songs, while Lanegan settles in to a close approximation of American Recordings-era Johnny Cash.

On paper, it's a mixture that sounds like oil and water - until you add the sparse country rhythms and lush orchestration. The False Husband epitomises the duo's wary dance around each other. The dark, twanging chords, which sharpen under Lanegan's vocals, rush into a swirl of optimism beneath Campbell's. Where Campbell sprinkles lashings of sugar, Lanegan throws handfuls of sawdust. When their voices meet, as on the Lanegan-penned Revolver, there's an intense intimacy that defies the chasm of conflicting styles.

But there's a creepy chemistry between them. When Lanegan sings: "There's a crimson bird flying when I go down on you," in (Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me? the purity of Campbell's voice leaves him stranded on the wrong side of Serge Gainsbourg. Campbell's no Birkin or Bardot and only the gorgeous, old-fashioned melody of Honey Child What Can I Do? saves it from the same fate. Still, both Campbell and Lanegan benefit from a dalliance that could turn into a beautiful relationship.

From The Independent:

The usually reserved Belle and Sebastian are in the middle of a veritable lather of industry, with the recent live album of If You're Feeling Sinister soon to be followed by both an album of their favourite tracks and a new B&S album proper. Besides this, Isobel Campbell is releasing this spin-off pairing her sweet, honeyed vocals with the deeper, smokier delivery of Mark Lanegan. The results are akin to that murder-ballad collaboration by Nick Cave and Kylie, or before that, the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood duets: there's the same sense of innocence and experience in mutually suspicious alliance on tracks like "The False Husband" and "(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?", a naive waltz that sounds like something Jack White might have cooked up for the Cold Mountain soundtrack. Lanegan's sepia baritone acquires a fresh sense of purpose when set against Campbell's hushed cooing, with melancholy cello and hapless guitar further staining the title track. Most striking is a Tom Waits-ian version of Hank Williams's "Ramblin' Man", to which Campbell has added a whispered vocal counterpoint and a whistled break.

From Playlouder:

Think of famous collaborations and multiply tenfold the queerest of bedfellows that pop has had to offer: Bing and Bowie, Cave and Kylie, Texas and The Wu Tang Clan? Isobel Campbell, with her wispy, ethereal tones is best remembered as the 'sugar and spice and all things nice' butter-wouldn't-melt singer in twee Scottish pansies Belle and Sebastian, while Mark Lanegan is the growly voiced overlord of Hades, a drug-guzzling simian and former front man of grunge heavyweights Screaming Trees (and more latterly guitarist with speed-metal miscreants Queens of the Stone Age). If you want to know what a duet between Mary Poppins and Satan sounds like then 'Ballad of the Broken Seas' is surely a close approximation.

Those familiar with these artists will be aware this is not the first time they've worked together. Campbell dreamed of teaming up with Tom Waits, and while the grouchy old soak predictably never replied, Lanegan reciprocated and turned out to be a surprisingly willing companion. As is so often the case, the connection between the odd couple is charged, and '...Broken Seas', though understated and pretty, tingles with furtive sexual chemistry. It's kinda like Moonlighting. "I won't say that I love you, I won't say I'll be true," glowers the demonic singer during '(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?', "there's a crimson bird flying when I go down on you." Shit!

Lanegan has never sounded quite as gruff as he does on the rhythmical, folky 'Deus Ibi Est' and countered against Campell's soft, vulnerable voice you feel as if you've been submerged in some kind of hypnotic fairytale. 'Black Mountain' is a ghostly and delicate take on 'Scarborough Fair', while the title track is a delightful, piano-led, melodic ode to heavy drinking. Campbell is responsible for writing most of the tracks, though Lanegan has a shot too with 'Revolver', a moody low-key number reminiscent of his 'Desert Sessions', it contains a simple shaker for percussion, offset by radiant violin flourishes, and of course the pair's fascinating duelling larynxes. Another highlight is the chain-gang shuffle of the old Hank Williams' standard 'Ramblin' Man.' It's a perversely unholy alliance, but by God it works. "Opposites attract." pointed out chunky 90s choreographer-turned-popstrel Paula Abdul, and in no case is it better illustrated than here. Let's hope there are more verses to savour in the ongoing ballad of Isobel and Mark.

From new noise:

Chalk and cheese, light and darkness, angelic and filthy fucking dirty. Use any metaphors for two extremes, but the point remains that Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan are rather different recording artists.

On one flank you have Lanegan, former Screaming Trees singer and Queens Of The Stone Age supporting player, lining up another cigarettes and bourbon-fuelled lament about how very life-worn his 250-a-day larynx sounds. Opposite stands, slightly coyly, one time Belle And Sebastian kitten Campbell, dressed like Audrey Hepburn's winter collection and no doubt, as on the cover of 'Ballad…', fixing her hair around china doll features. It's evil pitted against good, Los Angeles versus Glasgow.

And yet perhaps the combination isn't so strange after all. Maybe it's the most face-slappingly obvious link-up since Nancy Sinatra and Audio Bullys. Okay. Leave it. We're not serious about that heinous amalgamation. But for almost as long as the history of popular music itself, the grizzled experience of saloon-oiled mic-slurring males has oft been twinned with pure tones of lady-style associates. Except here it's Campbell who's got Lanegan by the creative balls.

Campbell frequently turned B&S ditties into saccharine tests of endurance that only the most indie of losers (and starry-eyed wannabe girls) could stomach without screaming, "It's all too fucking NICE!" But that was only when vying with Stuart Murdoch's jaunty tones. Lanegan is no Murdoch, praise be.

And while the latter would metaphorically have squirmed while asking Campbell to the pictures - nobody in Belle And Sebastian's alternate universe would be so crass as to call it the cinema, or course - Lanegan would laugh his adversary aside, book a sleazy motel suite and bed sweet Isobel before she could even protest how she hates, like, grunge and loud ol' rock bands

Fantasies temporarily forgotten, 'Ballad Of The Broken Seas' isn't the sexual cauldron it might've been. In fact, it gives off as many love vibes as a transatlantic long-distance relationship between amnesiac eunuchs. And the key to that curious flatness could well lie in Campbell's dominance here: Lanegan's only writing contribution is 'Revolver', while his lady partner takes up additional multi-instrumental and production duties. It's less collaboration, more a stilettos-on-testicles pussy-whipping for poor Lanegan.

'(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?' is the only moment that lingers in the mind - also providing grimly evocative images via Lanegan's "There's a crimson bird flyin'/When I go down on you" lines - as barroom gravel collides with Campbell's virgin white seduction. But, possibly in attempts to make their affair into a beautifully succinct perfect fling, Lanegan won't join Campbell on her upcoming solo tour. And that probably articulates more than we ever could on the dearth of truly intimate chemistry present.

From Hot Press:

They don't come more unlikely than this long-distance collaboration between the Scottish-based former Belle and Sebastian chanteuse and the ever-versatile Screaming Trees/Queens of the Stone Age vocalist and LA resident.

Aptly monikered, Ballad of the Broken Seas is said to be heavily inspired by the legendary Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood albums of the '60s.

While that influence is clearly apparent, there are hints too of some of the other legendary male/female duets in recent history, including Johnny Cash/June Carter and Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris. One song. 'Black Mountain' even boasts a strong Kylie and Nick Cave feel about it (i.e. it's in the vein of 'Where The Wild Roses Grow').

But what really makes this charming album work is the contrast between Lanegan's rough and ready vocal style and Campbell's angelic, almost ethereal tones which seem to float somewhere beyond the mix.

The pace is, in the main, downbeat and languid, progressing like a funeral procession. The nearest thing to an up-tempo pop song is the sublimely catchy 'Honey Child What Can I Do?' which is so steeped in '60s country textures that it could've been penned by Jimmy Webb for a Glen Campbell album.

In fact influences abound here: the title track has a strong Leonard Cohen feel about it, the string arrangements on the partly-instrumental 'It's Hard To Kill A Bad Thing' recalls Nick Drake's 'Northern Sky' while Hank Williams' 'Ramblin' Man' is reworked into a shuffle resembling something from Tom Waits' Bone Machine. Elsewhere, the sinister Duane Eddy guitar and heavily reverbed vocals on 'False Husband' would make it perfect for the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie.

The arrangement is stripped down on 'Do You Wanna Come Walk With Me', an innocent-sounding love song that contains the chilling line: "There's a crimson bird flying when I go down on you". A sombre ballad, 'The Circus Is Leaving Town', provides the perfect ending to this gorgeous, sepia-toned, late-night record.

From Platter picks:

Ballad of the Broken Seas is mystifying, passionate, and a gorgeous collaborative album by Scottish songstress Isobel Campbell (formally of Belle & Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (ex-Screaming Trees and current Queens of the Stone Age singer). Cambell and Lanegan are two unique and stunning personalities whose voices compliment each other in Ballad of the Broken Seas with incredible and breathtaking results.

"Deus Ibi Est," "Black Mountain," "The False Husband" (to me this one has a 60s Parisian feel - it's lovely and haunting), "Revolver" and "Ramblin' Man" (a cover version of Hank William's classic that is astounding with a sexy western, psychedelic charm running throughout).

Ballad of the Broken Seas is set for an early February release. Don't miss this one, folks!

From Sunday Times:

She can't crack a whip, but Belle and Sebastian's Isobel Campbell is a match for grunge legend Mark Lanegan. Now they're making beautiful music, says Mark Edwards

There are plenty of odd couples in pop music, but few odder than this one. On the one hand, Isobel Campbell: once of the sensitive, reclusive, some would say wimpy, indie band Belle and Sebastian, she has the voice of an esubheadly quiet angel and a distrust of rock guitars. On the other hand, Mark Lanegan: once the front man of the Seattle grunge legends Screaming Trees, these days he sings drug-laced lyrics in a whiskey-soaked voice and guests with the hard-rocking Queens of the Stone Age.

Despite Lanegan's venerated status in the world of noisy rock - he befriended Kurt Cobain after the latter sent him a string of fan letters - Campbell admits that "I'd never really heard of him, to be honest", when a friend suggested that Lanegan might be just the singer she was looking for to add some deeper vocals to one of her songs, Why Does My Head Hurt So? Campbell wrote a letter to Lanegan. "I was thinking, 'Yeah, right, this'll work,'" she says, with a shrug and a giggle, before launching into a detailed history of the letters she has sent to famous people without receiving a reply. Campbell once sent one of her albums to Woody Allen. Why Woody Allen? "Well, I don't know, really, but when Belle and Sebastian first played in New York, we were staying at the hotel where his jazz band has a residency, and we tried to go in and see him, only we were thrown out of the bar because we looked like strange, poor Scottish people."

Campbell has also sent her work to Tom Waits, with no reply. "I don't know if he got it. I hope not. It was a terrible letter," she says. Throughout her time in Belle and Sebastian and beyond, photos of Campbell - usually looking like the doppelgänger of Jean Seberg, the star of A bout de souffle - suggested some- one demure, sophisticated and reserved. That she turns out to be bubbly, chatty, a bit nervous and the kind of person who sends embarrassing letters to her idols is a surprise - but a charming one.

When she talks about the day that Lanegan called her, she still radiates the joy of that moment. "The universe gave him to me," she says. "The universe gave that voice to me."

Lanegan did more than just call: he also wrote additional lyrics to the song she sent him. "He said to me, 'Do you mind if I use the word "baby"?' No, I didn't mind."

Lanegan liked the finished recording. "He said, 'Our voices go really well together.' I said, 'Yes, they do' - all the time thinking, 'And your voice is so much better than mine.'"

Lanegan's voice is certainly more powerful than Campbell's ghostly whisper, but what makes the partnership so effective is the contrast between vocal textures.

Lanegan suggested they make an album together. Campbell took him at his word and wrote the songs for Ballad of the Broken Seas, which will be released on V2 at the end of January. Lanegan's haunting tones reveal the darker side of Campbell's lyrics, a strange, warped fairy-tale world - Grimm, not Disney - where lovers are seldom true and people are always moving on, where a storm's always brewing and everyone carries a gun.

"There has always been a dark side to my work," says Campbell. "I never used to understand why, in the past, I've been described as someone who would just suck lollipops and be a bit lame." It's the voice, of course, and her tendency to prefer the prim instrumentation of 1960s MOR music over the blues/rock wall of noise.

"Oh, yes, the voice. It's not Tina Turner," she admits. "And I've had so many problems with guitar players. They're all 'WWWAAAHHH'. And I'm saying, 'Please play like on a Serge Gainsbourg record.'"

Campbell's guitar problems were solved when she met Jim McCulloch, once of the Soup Dragons, who supplies atmospheric guitar throughout the album, notably twanging his way through a cover of Hank Williams's Ramblin' Man, which will be released as a limited- edition vinyl/download single just before the album. The track is also propelled by a whip crack. It's not, as you might imagine, a sample, but a real whip.

"I bought a whip, but I was a bit cagey about telling anyone about it," says Campbell. "So Dave, the engineer, tried all the whip samples, but they all sounded like comedy whips, so I was like, 'Actually, Dave...' To begin with, none of us could play it - we were rubbish. But the other engineer in the studio, Geoff, who's nearly 7ft, was amazing - he did the whole cowboy thing, the swirly bit round the head. We were like, 'Hmm, you've done this before.'"

And where did Campbell buy her whip? "The Ann Summers shop. I went in and said, 'Er, I'm a musician, do you have any whips?' So she showed me this whip and I said, 'Does it have a good crack?' She said, 'Well, the girl who specialises in whips isn't in today.'"

The whip isn't featured - though you feel it might be appropriate - on the title track, the tale of a couple "living at each other's throats in a gilded sailboat of sin". As with other lines on the album, it might have passed you by in Campbell's voice, but Lanegan's rich delivery pushes every word home. "It's about the glorious splendour of an incredibly destructive relationship," says Campbell. "It's disgusting, but it can be glorious at the same time." She sighs: "These things can happen. Don't try it at home."

The low-key opening track, Deus ibi est (available now as a download from or, is a suitably strange introduction to the album: a song about God sung partly in a dead language. "Oh, yeah, a bit of Latin for the kids," notes Campbell wryly. However, its antiwar message gives it contemporary relevance. The song establishes a theme that the album later returns to: the idea that while everyone else is travelling on, the writer/singer is stuck right where they are.

With a bit of luck, that might just turn out to be a hint that Campbell and Lanegan are going to continue their working relationship, making fascinating albums like Ballad of the Broken Seas.

Review from Clickmusic:

Pairing up a girl from Belle & Sebastian and a growling monster from Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age isn't exactly the kind of thing that most people would expect. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan are the strangest of musical partners, one with a celestial voice, the other with a guttural roar.

Not that it matters; the experiment works. 'Ballad of the Broken Seas' quickly dismisses any reservations about the compatibility of it's cast by proving, yes, they do mix.

From the folk of Black Mountain to the waltzing '(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me', the quality shows. 'Honey Child What Can I Do' comes close to full on psychedelic pop, but it's 'False Husband' that stands out. Showcasing the contrast between Campbell and Lanegan, it's up there with any male/female duet you'd care to mention. When you realise that the majority of the album was recorded with the two vocalists in different countries it's all the more remarkable.

Captivating doesn't even come close. Not as immediate as most albums, but a wonderful piece of work all the same.