The Scottish chanteuse has returned with a sequel from her storied collaboration with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan. Their pairing on Ballad of Broken Seas was more than just another conventional collaboration a-la Sonny & Cher, Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. In fact, Campbell and Lanegan’s lyrical duets were more of a mirror of modern day love affairs. Lanegan is the wandering drifter on “Deus Ibi Est “who keeps his heart shielded on the road of loneliness. And from the distance we hear his muse and then he meets his lyrical partner in the form of Isobel Campbell.
Ballad of Broken Seas is the passion that comes from the couplings of two star-crossed lovers, in the studio, because in real life these two were just professional collaborators but their devoted lyrics echo otherwise. I liken this as two actors on stage or on screen who have such a chemistry that we as the audience would swear that these two belong together. It’s this musical spark that made Ballad of Broken Seas a nominee for such luminary praise as the Mercury Prize in the UK.
Ballad of Broken Seas was such an electric pairing that it made critics and music diehards like yours truly respond in our best Lanegan voice, “Where have you been my friend(s)?” Just when we thought this musical coupling had flamed out on “The Circus is Leaving Town” comes word of Campbell and Lanegan’s reigniting their fiery partnership on Sunday at Devil Dirt.
From the opening duet of “Seafaring Song” we once again are witnesses to the tender pairing of Lanegan and Campbell. The way these two trade lines like kisses and the cinematic strings in the background reflect two lost lovers reconnecting on the screen after years being apart. What is it about duets that set my musical heart to swoon? It has to be the reappearance of chanteuse Campbell because you can’t have a successful duet without a sultry siren. What makes this collaboration soar is the darkened vocals of one Mark Lanegan. Lanegan isn’t one to croon cliché love songs but when he shares lyrical rhymes on “Come on Over (Turn Me On)” with Campbell it’s like these two singers are meant to be.
And this collaboration, that was never supposed to work on paper, is just like living examples other true romances. Campbell was born in Scotland, having first turned heads as a member of Belle and Sebastian until she went solo in 1999. Lanegan’s myth is more legendary. He’s like an outlaw singer/songwriter running loose in the underground until he comes face to face and lets loose with the fire and brimstone-like voice when inspiration finds him. You’ll hear Lanegan’s trademark vocal style on the blistering “Back Burner.” Like a haunted campfire song with Native American percussive overtones, Campbell’s angelic backing vocals make this a haunting yet memorable number.
If I was Lanegan and I heard Campbell sing the very sultry “Shotgun Blues” it would be hard to resist that kind of real life lyrical temptation. Could you? Sunday at Devil Dirt is like the couple that had a very passionate affair and is trying to turn their fling into full-fledged love. It’s unfeasible to try to turn the sparks you feel in the dark and turn these emotions from fire into light, it never works, the flame ends up extinguishing as it turns you two blue and distant. But Campbell and Lanegan make their collaboration work on Sunday at Devil Dirt, even on the very romantic instrumental “Violin Tango.”
I love the tender, countrified duet of “Keep Me in Mind Sweetheart” and the affectionate “Something to Believe,” which showcase these two lovers attempting to make their sensual coupling last. “Trouble” appears and brings the light the emotional resonance in the difficulty of modern day affairs. But Campbell and Lanegan don’t despair as they end up “Fighting Fire with Fire” with one of the five bonus tracks that are added to the American version of Sunday at Devil Dirt. Those extra cuts are five more reasons to follow the dynamic relationship of these two romantic singer/songwriters within the electric confines of these extraordinary songs.
“Rambling Rose, Clinging Vine” and the rest of Sunday at Devil Dirt are post modern love songs that reflect an honesty and devotion that are lacking from most heartless romantic songs heard on pop radio today. This is the way love should sound like. Sunday at the Devil Dirt the soundtrack for a romance that’s not supposed to work in real life, but sounds ideal in song. That’s what make Campbell and Lanegan so essential in this era—two singers who desperately search for eternal love and make us grateful for the happiness in our private universes.
I can’t help but think that everyone would love to ride off into the sunset with their lover as the slide guitar from “Rambling Rose, Clinging Vine” plays as the personal soundtrack, but it never really works out that way, does it? True love is hardly a storybook you can create with on solitary spark in the dark—it takes nurturing, understanding, patience and time. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan continue their lyrical explorations of the intimate complexities of romance on Sunday at the Devil Dirt. Here’s hoping that the collaboration of Campbell and Lanegan is everlasting.