Monday, April 03, 2006

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan / Ballad of the Broken Seas / Rating: 7.2

“The thirty-odd years of musical experience Campbell and Lanegan collectively possess are worn like sun-creased skin on Ballad of the Broken Seas, which manages to be consistently engaging and sufficiently memorable without making too much fuss about it.”

So many questions!

“Isobel Campbell was the second-best singer-- and best cellist-- in Belle and Sebastian” okay so who is the best singer? Stuart I presume? I guess if I cared an inch about B & S this would be a fine way to kick off the review.

What’s with this use of the double dash “singer-- and best cellist—“ ? Is one – not good enough? Is the … old fashioned? Is this the kind of important stuff I would have learned had I attended college?

The big looming question at hand is how the hell do you write a review of this Lanegan / Campbell combo and not mention Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra or that Nick Cave and Lydia Lunch took as stab at this Lee & Nancy thing once already. Perhaps that is stating the obvious but anybody who has ever heard "Some Velvet Morning" or "Summer Wine" would know Ballad of the Broken Seas is a shameful knock off that not even a kiosk on Canal Street would be willing to try to pass off as an original. A friend tried to defend this record by saying that L & N didn't invent the boy meets girl 60's duet but sorry my friend. This is a Lee and Nancy record without either of those clever song writing talents / personalities and minus Hazlewood’s trademark Sun Studio production style (James Bond meets John Wayne) and guitar playing. Hazlewood after all was said to influence and inspire Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” recording technique. We all know personality is often code for can’t really sing but while L or N may have questionable pitch, their attack of each song screams sexy silly genuine chemistry between a man and a woman. Lanegan and Campbell’s pairing scream ballad of the living dead. That might sound vaguely interesting but it isn’t.

Secondly Hazlewood’s dark sense of humor and kitschy wit would whoop Campbell’s ass in a lyrics think tank.

As PFM states Lanegan did kick off his career in the Screaming Trees (and ironically ST drummer Mark Pickeral is one of the planets BIGGEST Lee Hazlewood fans on this planet) and yes Lanegan was in Queens of the Stone Age for a hot second but what PFM neglected to mention is his 16+ year as a singer / songwriter ( tho the "thirty-odd years of musical experience" coment hints at it). Lanegan's first solo record The Winding Sheet came out on that little label Sub Pop back in 1990 and he has been pumping out solo material ever since. Those records have nothing to do with “bias toward angrily trippy stoner jams” and I am surprised PFM neglected to speak of Lanegan’s well rooted career as a melancholy crooner.

Lastly PFM states “If you really wanna cut the roast beast, let's say it plain: While Campbell's contributions to the album are far from negligible, the thing reeks of Lanegan, aligning itself with the hard-bitten American roots music of his solo albums.” Campbell wrote almost the entire record and produced all of Ballad of the Broken Seas, all Lanegan did on this sucker is pony up some vocals and write the words to a song. If Lanegan sounds more omnipresent it is because A) the production tips the vocal scale to the HIS side and B) Isobel doesn’t sing like she has much life or wind in her. The trees in my back yard make a bigger/interesting more lively racket. Any girl with a little breath in her body could tackle the vocal duties at hand. I applaud anyone who takes on writing a record no less producing it themselves and I will say her use of strings keeps the blood flowing on each track but I would have preferred to hear a different female personality singing with Lanegan; somebody with a little more sadness in their soul and a warmer flame flickering from their lips.

I wonder what Lee and Nancy are doing right now? I think their push and pull dynamic could have saved Ballad of... from drowning in a sea of mediocrity and I wish there was one last Lee and Nancy record in this world.

I don’t care what the musical history of either of these artists is (you guys already know Belle & Sebastian doesn’t rest on any alter in my home), boring is boring and the chemistry found on this record is as awkward as brother and sister kiss. Studio trickery can help mask dim songwriting but no matter how much you dress it, a corpse won’t come to life.

I can’t give this record a 7.2 or even a 6 something, and in a world of thousands of more captivating duets than theirs, I won’t be spending another 5 minutes with this Campbell / Lanegan partnership. When you see this record on line or in your local record shop don’t be fooled: the fantastic photo on the cover is as interesting as this record gets.

Go get yourself and best of Lee and Nancy instead, you can thank me later.