Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan Isobel Campbell & Mark LaneganHawk
Since she abandoned Belle & Sebastian, Isobel Campbell has been trying to make a place for herself in the overflowing (elbows at the ready) scene of girls who write sad songs with obscure intentions. First she tried her luck after The Gentle Waves and she made two attempts ( “The Green Fields Forever” and “Swansong for You”) that tried out her “whisper and crossword” brand of pop. Then, in 2003, she took off her mask and debuted as Isobel Campbell with the irregular “Amorino”, which was followed by the dark, totally dispensable “Milkwhite Sheets”. Then, we were about to discover that Campbell’s real talent required a crossing with her beloved American heartland (the one that drinks one cup of coffee after another in a diner on a dusty road that doesn’t go anywhere). How they met and how they reached the conclusion that they could make the genre that Nick Cave gave birth to (along with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey) into the indispensable “Murder Ballads” and a profitable record career is still a mystery, but Campbell and Mark Lanegan (the guy with whom Kurt Cobain bought the shotgun that would put an end to his life) were destined to understand each other. Really, it’s more like Campbell’s songs were crying out to become what Lanegan (ex- Screaming Trees and expert collaborator: he has played with Queens Of The Stone Age, in The Gutter Twins with Greg Dully, and he has given voice to Soulsavers) calls “raunchy songs,” something like songs for a porch on a shack in the middle of nowhere (in America). So without a doubt, and after listening to the end of the trilogy, the highly recommendable (and more flexible) “Hawk”, Campbell has definitely found her place in the world (musically speaking).
Because as before (in the two excellent albums that preceded “Hawk”, the very motel room “Ballad of the Broken Seas”, and the better-for-a-damned-Sunday-afternoon “Sunday at Devil Dirt”), Campbell is carrying the weight of the album: she is the one who composes and produces, and Lanegan limits himself to providing his sandpaper voice and, at times, his guitar. If the first time, in “Ballad of the Broken Seas”, she composed and got the songs to Lanegan in Los Angeles for him to finish the work, and for the second LP they shared the mike for a little more than a week (they gave birth to the darkly magnificent “Sunday at Devil Dirt” in only nine days), what happened this third time around is that Campbell did her thing, compose and decide, and later she exchanged a whole bunch of e-mails, with files attached (songs or parts of songs) with Lanegan, who sent them back to her with other attached files (of his voices and everything else). So it can be said that “Hawk” was gestated between California, Texas, Louisiana, Denmark, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. By mail.
And what is “Hawk”? Another handful of perfect “murder ballads,” or, what is the same, poisonous ballads of girls who whisper and guys who pull their hats down too low on their heads while they chew tobacco and wonder why the world is a horrible place. But this time, they allow themselves a few concessions (check out the fourth cut, “Come Undone”, which reminds one of the Minogue-Cave cross more than ever before), and the fantastic closing, pure gospel with a Dylan rhythm, “Lately”, or the violins of the childlike “The Eyes of Green”. We find a double take on Townes Van Zandt, the cowboy versus girl-with-tremendously-attractive-voice version (that is “Snake Song”) and “No Place to Fall”, where Willy Mason takes over from Lanegan. They try their hand at a couple of rock ‘n’ roll cuts (the more classic “Get Behind Me”, Lanegan in charge, asking Isobel not to make him nervous, and the noisy and very rockabilly “Hawk”, an instrumental piece that lasts barely two minutes and sounds like a declaration of intentions). Of course they also give us unforgettable “raunchy songs” like “You Won’t Let Me Down Again” (very in the line of “Bubblegum”, Lanegan’s last album) or “Sunrise”, practically a vampire lullaby. The surprise that kicks off the album is a pleasant one: “We Die and See Beauty Reign”, a delicate (so delicate that at times it seems like a dark chanson) and suggestive way of making it clear that after all of this, there is something more, and that this something more doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s definitely a step forward (and the most experimental and notable of all) on the dusty road that this girl from Glasgow and the guy with the spurs have decided to ride down together.