So a new Mark Lanegan solo album, under the guise of Mark Lanegan Band, he does still do them! We recently bought you a review of fellow QOTSA alumni Nick Oliveri‘s latest album, but while Oliveri‘s recent past is scarred by strife, Lanegan’s is one of peace and collaboration. I’ve lost count of the album’s he’s guested on and co-created and his last solo work was a mellow set of covers.
Here we have another proper set of new songs and a return to the much vaunted electronic sounds most famously used on ‘Ode To Sad Disco’ on “Blues Funeral”. A little too much has been made of this stylistic leap in my opinion though, this is not a Depeche Mode album, there’s plenty of other sounds utilised here although the synths and beats do add several new shades of grey and blue to Lanegan‘s trademark guttural Americana.
The first two tracks; ‘Harvest Home’ and ‘Judgement Time’ have as much in common with the Johnny Cash as they do with any new fangled dance rock act. Whilst beats and chilly washes of synth dominate the opener the lyric is all grim faced fatalism and of coming to terms with your dark heart. ‘Judgement Time’ features a harmonium and is full of religious imagery recalled by a ‘strung out angel’. Both could easily be part of Cash‘s “American Recordings” series.
“Floor of the Ocean” is one of the most fully committed of the new electronic style songs and features a fantastic sing-song New Order-esque bass line, glittering synths and a slippery but busy backbeat. It puts me in mind of Sneaker Pimps, and there’s something I never expected to write!
More beats abound on ‘Killing Season’, but one listen to the lyric will keep you off the dancefloor. It may be Lanegan‘s bleakest ever lyric, full of black metal poetry ‘smelling the incense of the perfume of your blood’ and ‘powder in the air like anthrax’ – it revels in horror and casts a sickly pall over the entire album.
Light relief is provided next by ‘Seventh Day’ which begins with a chuckle and features what sounds like jazz flutes and a pretty ‘la la la‘ bridge into the perky synths which manages to summon both 1960’s San Francisco and sound utterly new at the same time. Odd but undoubtedly effective, this is brightest star in opposition to the blackness of its predecessor.
The beats subside now and the album reverts to a more vintage ambience, ‘I Am The Wolf’ could be Scott Walker circa ”Scott 4”, it’s poise and clean acoustics make the loneliness of the protagonist a thing of beauty. And speaking of beauty;
‘Torn Red Heart’ could have been written by Burt Bacharach on a particularly rainy day, and you could imagine Dusty Springfield wringing every ounce of heart ache out of it. Here we find Lanegan striving for and achieving the pop classicism he celebrated on “Immitations”.
Sadly ‘Waltzing In Blue’ is the glummest, slowest waltz ever played, dominated by a bassy bottom end of synth which for me never displays much sign of life and sort of drifts off in unremarkable fashion. There are occasions where Lanegan‘s voice drifts over the beats where once he soared and scrapped in competition with guitars and it verges on the soporific. This is a mature set of songs with some fantastic melodies and the usual dark, biblical lyricism but for me it feels a little flat on repeated listens.
It ends with ‘Death Trip to Tulsa’ (surely the most Mark Lanegan-y song title of all time) which swings with a chain gang chug, lifted by a perky synth riff and Lanegan‘s best swaggering vocal and suddenly all the parts fit beautifully. However sometimes, just sometimes I want a howling guitar to cut through the tasteful restraint. Still, the quality control remains impressively high, Lanegan is slowly assembling one of the most impressive canons in rock.