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Ballad of the Broken Seas

Ballad of the Broken Seas

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

V2 / 2006

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I can’t sing like Al Green, Little Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. Anyone familiar with Eddie Murphy’s seminal Delirious will understand how much this hampers my pulling power. I certainly haven’t got any pussy falling out of any of my pockets. It thus becomes doubly important for me to have a mental list of Records it’s Alright to Play Girls. Apparently most girls aren’t too keen on Madlib, King Crimson or Big Black (the fools), and so for years I’ve been making an effort to remember records that would work on an aprés-drink coffee evening. The list is populated by names like Goldfrapp (Felt Mountain) and Nora Jones (if you can find the song she did with Charlie Hunter called ‘Day is Done’). Girls singing over pianos and strings and stuff. Now I’ve found one with a man’s voice too.

Mark Lanegan can’t sing like Al Green either. He has the kind of voice that invites clichés as to how deep and gravelly it is. The kind of voice that loosens bowels. Nick Cave if he weighed another six stone, or Tom Waits on a course of throat medicine. Every syllable is intoned with resonant threat. Isobel Campbell has a voice that similarly invites clichés about how sweet it is. She’s somewhere pitched in between Nancy Sinatra, Alison Goldfrapp and Liz Fraser. When they’re singing alternate verses or chorus, as on album opener ‘Deus Ibi Est’ you have to sit up and listen. When they’re harmonizing and singing with one another, in proper duet fashion, on ‘The False Husband’ and ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas’, you can’t help but swoon. Musically, Campbell’s sweeping and yet light string arrangements and sparse country backing bring to mind a sunnier version of PJ Harvey’s Is This Desire, or even Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie’s I See A Darkness. This is Cowboy Folk or Chamber Americana. Either way, it sounds lovely. It’s a world of autumnal colours and girls in cowboy boots and denim eating picnics (but without looking like the bassist from The Subways).

But the record does have a drawback, and no matter how effective it might be as background music to some seduction, you’ll find yourself drifting off a little towards the end. So if you want a fully-fledged classic that engages from start to end, buy Physical Graffiti. If you want some sweet sexy goodness, get this.

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