Top positive review
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Not an instant classic, but still good
on 23 July 2010
I've got an advance copy of this album and have given it it 2 or 3 listenings so far.
My first impressions are that it isn't as strong as the previous albums overall, however it's still a lot better than most music out there and there are some great moments in there.
Trying to work out why I wasn't quite so impressed with this album I relistened to my personal favourite 'Ballad of the Broken Seas'. What I love about that album is the use of the two artist personalities Mark's growling apocolpytic cowboy and Isobel's lilting folk temptress are at their best when they have a dialogue together. Songs like 'The False Husband' where he asks and she answers, or the super sexy 'Ramblin' Man' with their overlayed vocal tracks are simply amazing. Sometimes they would trade off individual tracks so Mark gets the tital track and Isobel get's 'Saturday's Gone' and the rest of the time they come together in sweet harmony.
Well... 'Hawk' relies much more on this last type of song, essentially Mark leading and Isobel providing little more than backing vocals. Their collaberation began as her idea and her style guided much of the earlier work, but on this third record it feels like Mark is driving, much more of his sound and less of hers - though in certain songs that perfect balance is still there, most clearly in the haunting opening track 'We Die and See Beauty Reign'(which unfortunatly got me really excited and left me a bit disappointed with what followed). 'Come Undone' is also very good, but reminded me of the superior earlier song 'Come on Over (Turn me on)'.
Isobel does get two solo tracks again 'Sunrise' and 'To Hell and Back again', but they are placed back to back and so don't punctuate the album as well as before.
One last point - the previous albums managed to be playful but unified, or rather whilst being varied the songs had a coherent sense of time and place (the same place PJ Harvey was singing 'To Bring you my Love' from I think). 'Hawk' is mostly coming from the same locale, but one or two elements seem quite jarring here - there is a Celtic element to the music of 'Eyes of Green' that seems out of place here (not a bad song, just out of place) and I've never really liked gospel choral elements; they rarely work and often sound like cheap shorthand for 'this song is uplifting a-don't-you-know' so I was disappointed to hear it in the album closer here 'Lately'. By far their weakest album closer yet compared with the moody evokative 'The Circus is Leaving Town' or 'Sally don't you cry'.
So in conclusion - certainly worth checking out and personal taste, as ever, will play a big factor, but I've tried to offer a few reasoned and reasonably objective comments (or at least note when something is just a matter of taste - like not liking gospel choir). However, writing this (and listening to Lanegan's solo 'Bubblegum' album as I did so) I can't help that think that 'Hawk' is a bit of a disappointment - 3.5 stars if I could, but as I can't 4 because compared with most music it's still very good.