Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Album Review: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (3/5)

Sunday at Dirt Devil is the second collaboration between the sweet-voiced former Belle & Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell and the gruff former Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan. Their first, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was one of my favorite albums of 2006. I loved its dramatic, western-tinged soundscapes and Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra stylings.

So I should be thrilled to have them back, but unfortunately this second outing lacks the spark of the first. Where Broken Seas was joyously eclectic, Dirt Devil is schizophrenic, joining a somber first half to a light and folksy second half. Let's take them one by one.

The first half is dominated by the sort of '60s-esque dramatic Lee and Nancy balladry that made the first album great, although this time the tone is even darker and less upbeat. "Seafaring Song" is a quiet opening number, with strings and acoustic guitar playing in a melancholy key. "The Raven" is a little louder, adding a few drums, but its still pretty dark. So is "Who Built the Road," which is more uptempo, but that's not saying much on this album of weepies. It has that western flavor and dramatic strings that reminds me of why I liked their first album.

The first half of the album also has a number of more bluesy numbers like "Salvation," which puts Mark front and center with just a guitar and few wisps of vocals from Isobel and the plodding "Back Burner" which is mostly Mark and percussion. "Come on Over (Turn Me On)" is the album's best track. It has a nice swagger to it and finds Mark and Isobel singing together as equals. The music swells, for probably the only point on the album, with piano, strings and drums. Too bad this one song squanders almost all the album's excitement. More of this would have been really great.

The second half drops the dark drama for a set of folksy numbers, some rather light. Unfortunately, they are less interesting than what came before. "The Flame that Burns" isn't very interesting, neither is "Shotgun Blues," which is sooo slow. "Something to Believe" is too bland for my taste.

It's not all bad on the second half though. "Keep Me in Mind, Sweetheart" is a sweet, simple little tune. And "Trouble" has a nice rock melody, with both singers featured equally. That's perhaps one of the biggest surprises--Vocal duties on this album fall more on Mark than Isobel, a reversal from their last project.

Sunday at Dirt Devil suffers from being uneven and lacking much pep. There are a few good moments, but I doubt a Mercury Prize nomination is in the cards this time.

Best: Come on Over (Turn me On), Who Built the Road, Trouble

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