Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan are the oddest couple. Campbell: a curvy blonde, and former cellist with the maudlin Scottish folk band, Belle and Sebastian. Lanegan: the bony alumnus of the Seattle grunge rockers Screaming Trees, and, latterly, Queens of the Stone Age. Together, they recorded an album - Ballad of the Broken Seas - that sufficiently tickled the Mercury Prize judges to land Campbell and Lanegan a place on last year's shortlist. But, at this gig, it should have become clear to both musicians that it's time to start seeing other people.
Ballad of the Broken Seas is a lolling, waltzy record, full of 6/8 and country string parts. Its charm, such as it is, relies on the juxtaposition of Lanegan's basso profundo and Campbell's vapid trillings. But, if the vocal impetus belongs to Lanegan, the musical direction is all Campbell. She wrote most of the songs, and produced the album in Glasgow, while Lanegan made his contribution in LA.
Disconnected beginnings, then, and a disconnected performance. The pair only appear together on a handful of songs, both head-to-toe in black, staring straight ahead, and equally rigid in their delivery. But, while Lanegan holds a tune with guts and dart-sharp intonation, Campbell's tuning is all over the place.
Indeed, there are times when her performance borders on the disdainful. She needs sheet music for cello lines that can only be four bars long. Too much to learn for a headline London gig? Timings and lines are fluffed, and Campbell seems content to use cutesy charm to win back the audience.
The sell-out crowd is, in any case, determined to have a good time, and roars at every number. This is justified for some of Lanegan's offerings. "The Circus is Leaving Town" - a great song - is lit up by his growling refrain: "The circus is leaving town/Oh, Ruby, roll your stockings down." One can't help thinking, though, that when Lanegan sings, "You need a different beat/ you need a different tune", in the next verse, it is somewhat prophetic.
"I'm the dork of this outfit," giggles Campbell, after another slip in the middle of the set. The audience laughs. She is, after all, only telling the truth.Reuse content