A few years ago, the unlikely pair of Isobel Campbell (of Belle and Sebastian) and Mark Lanegan (of
Screaming Trees) released â€œBallad Of The Broken Seas,â€ and walked away with a 2006 Mercury Music Prize nomination. Now, theyâ€™re back.
The difference in â€œSunday At Dirt Devilâ€ is mostly in the compositions themselves. The album isnâ€™t as dark as the prior oneâ€”it allows the pair to spread a little further, like on â€œCome On Over,â€ a sweetly seductive ballad. â€œSeafaring Songâ€ is another example of how well the album can work. Lanegan is doing his best Nick Cave, using a register so deep it nearly echoes within itself, while Isobell sings along, lower in the mix, with her gentle, comforting voice. Together, you get a devil-on-my-left, angel-on-my-right feelingâ€”like the song is sad, but there is hope and love behind it. And â€œThe Flame That Burnsâ€ is the canâ€™t-miss track here. Itâ€™s awesome.
Other songs donâ€™t work as well. â€œKeep Me In Mind Sweetheartâ€ is an upbeat donâ€™t-fergit-me country-style ditty, and it falls flat because it fails to capitalize on the emotion these two vocalists are capable of expressing just by the way they sing what they sing. Lyrics are far less important than the
music for singers with the skills of Campbell and Lanegan; when the mood of the tune isnâ€™t right, the
thing just canâ€™t stay together.
Regular readers of this page know Iâ€™m a huge fan of Lanegan, and Saturnalia is definitely a contender for my top albums of the year, so it might sound strange to see this criticism: Thereâ€™s too much Lanegan here! What makes these ballads work so well is the interplay, and just about here every song is dominated by Lanegan. In fact, I suspect it is his influence that led to including so much country/blues on the record, but the best song of this genre is â€œShot Gun Blues,â€ which is all Campbell. I canâ€™t give this as strong a review as â€œBallad of the Broken Seas,â€ but it is a strong and solid release that will definitely appeal to fans of that first record. And when the album is good, itâ€™s great.