When Soulsavers recorded 2007's It's Not How Far You Fall, It's How You Land they were out of contract, scraping by on credit cards and had just begun working with Mark Lanegan; not known for his frivolity. Unsurprisingly, it emerged as dark and depressed. Two years, a major label record deal and mountains of ecstatic reviews later, and the duo's prospects have brightened considerably, though their sound - as their fans will be relieved to hear - has not.
Like its predecessor, Broken fuses delta blues, grizzled gospel and comedown electronica to create an atmosphere that is both grand and bleak. In fact, on initial listens the mood is so downbeat that songs blur oppressively into each other, not helped by a hoary blues vocabulary where blood is always ''cursed'', wounds ''never heal'' and bones are always ''weary.''
Understandably, many will lack the appetite for second helpings. But for those who persevere, there are enough gleams of light poking through the cloud cover, and enough slowly revealed surprises to make the effort worthwhile. So while Death Bells is too dourly self-regarding to truly love, and the long, creaky Gene Clark cover Some Misunderstanding sounds distressingly like Chris Rea, other songs see Soulsavers live up to their considerable reputation.
One is Unbalanced Pieces, where the solemnity of Lanegan's central melody is lifted by a skulking, hypnotic bass and one of the album's few big, hummable choruses. You'll Miss Me When I Burn is far starker, based around little more than a mournful, circling piano, but is all the more moving for its simplicity.
Unusually, the album saves its best surprises for the end, when Red Ghost makes a late, strangely uplifting appearance. On the sweet, sad-eyed lullaby of Praying Ground, the Australian sings with an authority and assurance remarkable in a newcomer. Even more boldly, she more than holds her own on her duet with Lanegan, Rolling Sky, which is as menacing and unpredictable as an approaching storm.
Broken is probably too stubborn and idiosyncratic to win over many who haven't already acquired a taste for either Soulsavers or Lanegan. But those who have are likely to love it deeply and fiercely. --Jaime Gill
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