Reviews for Ballad of the Broken Seas
From Your Flesh:
ISOBEL CAMPBELL AND MARK LANEGAN Ballad Of The Broken
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.
-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.
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
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
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
"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 www.v2music.com or www.isobelcampbell.com), 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.