The self-deprecatingly titled “Imitations” is Mark Lanegan‘s tribute to the songwriters and singers who have inspired him over his quite considerable career. As one of the go-to guys in alt rock for songwriters who want a great voice to interpret their lyrics, it’s no surprise that Lanegan is open to and fascinated by the business of crafting a classic song. I have to admit to being unfamiliar with many of the originals covered here and this is obviously a very personal record, as demonstrated by his re-workings of two Andy Williams numbers, a family favourite when he was growing up.
Of course Lanegan could sing the phone book and make it captivating but the gentle and restrained backing here often means the songs lack the crackling electricity of his usually dark skies. “Imitations” reminds me of The Czars covers album “Sorry I Made You Cry”, where you miss the personality or ‘voice’ of the singer. On “Sorry I Made You Cry” you miss the wit and spite of John Grant and “Imitations” lacks the hardbitten junkie soul of Lanegan.
It’s not all disappointing, though; opener ‘Flatlands’ – originally by Chelsea Wolfe – has a lovely circular twanging guitar riff and traces of the menace you expect from the dark prince of grunge. ‘You Only Live Twice’ (originally by Nancy Sinatra) both suprises and delights. A Bond tune I’m not overly sick of, this is a scaled down acoustic version that removes the showbiz and stands up as a great little tune with a haunting melody.
The folky acoustic vibe doesn’t work so well on Bobby Darin‘s standard ‘Mack The Knife’, as it ambles along politely and I miss the staccato attack of the Frank Sinatra version. Sinatra treats the melody with something bordering on contempt and that is not something Lanegan seems prepared to do here, where everything is too reverent.
Tracks like Neil Sedaka‘s ‘Solitaire’ and John Cale‘s ‘I’m Not the Loving Kind’ are overly respectful and I can’t help thinking that Tom Waits would have made a much better fist of interpreting and personalising these songs. This album proves that a terrific singer and some classic songs do necessarily make a classic album.