Isobel Campbell: There Is No Other . . . review – A musical balm from battle-hardened songstress

Fri, Jan 31, 2020, 06:00


There is No Other...

Isobel Campbell

Cooking Vinyl


Since leaving Belle & Sebastian in 2002, Isobel Campbell has recorded five studio albums, plus a further three collaborations with Mark Lanegan. Although, somewhat bizarrely, There is No Other . . . is her first release in a decade, partly due to her unwittingly getting tangled up in music industry red tape. 

After initially rising to prominence at the tender age of 19, Campbell has left her past behind and is no longer shackled to the B&S brand of chamber pop. Now residing in Los Angeles, which she sings about on the opening track, City of Angels, Campbell is as far removed from her previous life – both physically and musically – as you can get.

She always had a very fine voice, featuring a peculiar blend of lushness with a slightly gritty, nasal quality. It’s little wonder that Campbell worked so much with Lanegan, who can make singing the phonebook sound riveting.

She also manages to pull off an extremely audacious cover version of a classic tune by a recently departed icon. Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty is reinvented as a Campbellesque mid-tempo bittersweet pop tune, and her risky gambit on the second track pays off. 

Isobel Campbell - Hey World

 There are still traces of the teenager who sung with Belle & Sebastian on their magical mystery tour during the 1990s

Campbell lifts her album title from an ancient Mayan greeting, and finds inspiration in mindfulness and meditation, giving There Is No Other . . . a reflective feel. On Ant Life, she questions the frantic pace of modern urban life. “All over, in fact, I’m exceedingly slow,” she gently croons. “My whole life, I’ve wondered, what’s the rush?”

A rogues’ gallery of musicians stir the broth: Jim McCulloch of Soup Dragons, Dave McGowan of Teenage Fanclub, and Elijah Thomson (Father John Misty, Everest) join forces with accomplished multi-instrumentalist Nina Violet.

Campbell and company cover quite a lot of eclectic ground. The National Bird of India is embellished with a sumptuous strings arrangement; Rainbow splices folk, bossa nova and mellow psychedelia; while The Heart of It All is a stirring country soul song that attempts to address the big questions. 

For Campbell, the answers lie in music and the mind. Just for Today is inspired by the five precepts of the healing arts of Japanese Reiki. On the closing track, Below Zero, she sings with steel: “Tired of all the bullshit. Playing nice. Shadow boxing. Skating on thin ice.”

While there are still traces of the teenager who sung with Belle & Sebastian on their magical mystery tour during the 1990s inspired by Forever Changes by Love, when they became one of the biggest cult acts since The Smiths, Isobel Campbell has blossomed into an extraordinary talent. A battle-hardened songstress offering a musical balm for the heart and soul.