Release Date: Apr 28, 2017
Record label: Pias America
A lways keen on collaborations - he has previously worked with Soulsavers, Queens of the Stone Age, PJ Harvey, Moby and Isobel Campbell, among others - much of Mark Lanegan's 10th solo album was composed with British musician Rob Marshall, the rest with longtime foil Alain Johannes. The results represent a career high, the synths, Krautrock rhythms and flashes of electronica (witness the drum'n'bass loop anchoring Drunk on Destruction) first introduced on 2012's Blues Funeral very much to the fore, and perfectly complementing the abrasive guitars and Lanegan's grizzled baritone. Throughout, the influences of New Order and Xtrmntr-era Primal Scream loom large, most notably on the brooding and suitably dark Nocturne.
A new Mark Lanegan album is always welcome. Having cut his teeth with numerous bands and projects over the years, his is a voice that simply wraps itself around your heart and never lets go. Those who first encountered him in Screaming Trees will have fond memories of Uncle Anaesthesia or Sweet Oblivion, and the same will almost certainly go for those who first heard those golden tonsils on any of his work with Isobel Campbell, The Gutter Twins, Queens Of The Stone Age or Soulsavers (to name just a few).
G argoyle delves deeper into the former Screaming Trees vocalist's interest in the English gothic electro-rock of the 1980s, which also fired 2012's Blues Funeral and 2014's Phantom Radio. Many of the songs were co-written with Yorkshireman Rob Marshall, and songs such as Nocturne deliver mournful Joy Division bass lines, Echo and the Bunnymen guitar grandeur and Sisters of Mercy-style electro thud. The plangent Goodbye to Beauty could even have sat neatly on U2's The Joshua Tree, had it been sung by Bono rather than a former heroin addict with a gravelly, dustbowl baritone.
The story of Mark Lanegan's latest album begins with the return of a favour. Having contributed to a project helmed by guitarist and friend Rob Marshall (formally of indie/ alternative outfit Exit Calm), Lanegan found himself in receipt of a cache of new material, which he dutifully welcomed into the swirl of ideas he had himself been working on. The result is Gargoyle, an album that features appearances from Josh Homme, Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood.
Gargoyle, Mark Lanegan's fourth album under the moniker the Mark Lanegan Band, opens with a song called "Death's Head Tattoo," and given the singer's chronically gloomy outlook on the world around him, that title sounds like it could be the height of cliché in Lanegan's hands. But thanks to his intelligence as a songwriter and his gifts as a vocalist, even under the worst circumstances Lanegan would deliver something worth hearing, and "Death's Head Tattoo" turns out to be more perceptive than one might have feared. Similarly, Gargoyle turns out to be a more satisfying listen than the previous Mark Lanegan Band albums.
Mark Lanegan has donned the tarnished, starry crown of a cult legacy artist. Now 52 and in his fourth decade in the music business, he's settled into his role as grizzled elder statesman and underground bard. While many in his position are content to let their outputs dwindle as they assume a sage role, Lanegan's artistry has been experiencing a prolific boon over the last few years.
At first you might think Lanegan's tenth solo album, Gargoyle, picks up where 2014's Phantom Radio left off. You can hear the dark influence of Krautrock in the basslines and the synths of both album opener Death's Head Tattoo and Nocturne, albeit shot through on the latter with the kind of guitar noise more familiar to fans of Screaming Trees. And then we get to Beehive, one of the most vital, urgent and immediate songs he's ever done.
Blessed with a tar-thick and nicotine-stained baritone growl that oozes experience and a life fully lived, there's a convincing argument to be made that Mark Lanegan could make even a kebab shop menu sound compelling. But what's really fascinating about him is his continual search for new avenues to explore in what is essentially a gothic blues idiom. So it is that Gargoyle picks up on the electro-noir of its predecessors Blues Funeral and Phantom Radio.
Mark Lanegan has been a treasure hiding in plain sight for a long time. While stints with Queens of the Stone Age and his earlier launch as the voice of the Screaming Trees put him on the map in the wider world, it has been his subtle, moody work with Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs) in The Gutter Twins and The Twilight Singers, his guest turn with Soulsavers, duet records with Isobel Campbell (from Belle & Sebastian) and a steady flow of high quality, underrated solo records that argue for higher placement in the modern canon. Latter day Lanegan sounds like a mournful, sinning oak tree - his voice a guttural bellow that sounds like nothing so much as a form of emotional weather, both strained and inevitable.
Although experiments are always welcomed, at times they don't suit Mark's trademark voice and vibe... During the '00s, Mark Lanegan started shifting from acoustic & lush blues-meets-alternative rock ditties to a darker, raucous style that favored more "mechanical" dynamics. Bubblegum is where things started changing, but the brilliant Blues Funeral is where the magic resided. Alain Johannes helped him embrace a different sound, enhanced by electronic elements yet retaining that murky atmosphere (at times, turning it into a haunting experience).
The passage of time has been kind to Mark Lanegan . Since before the demise of his first band Screaming Trees in 2000, Lanegan has kept up a breakneck pace, juggling between solo albums and a string of high-profile collaborations. Back in '92, when Screaming Trees scored hits with " Dollar Bill " and " Nearly Lost You ," you'd never have imagined that same singer making himself at home one day beside Martina Topley-Bird and Warpaint on a cover of the xx 's "Crystalised.
We're living in a new era of Mark Lanegan. 2012's Blue Funeral was his first solo record in seven years. Since then he's been more than prolific with an album or EP out almost every year since. Having more than recently passed the 50-year benchmark, Lanegan's clearly enjoying a creative renaissance along with his numerous collaborations with the likes of UNKLE, Moby and such.
Photo by Steve Gullick Mark Lanegan can sound like a voice from the crypt, his hollowed out, deep-black whisper almost too low to hear properly, a whisper like Leonard Cohen if he'd recently been to hell, a whisper that could frighten children into eating their vegetables. In Gargoyle, though, he uses this whisper sparingly; the hairs on my arm rise to it just once, during "Nocturne" and for the rest of the time, the one-time Screaming Trees' front man sticks to melody. Gargoyle is a singing record, a tuneful record, a densely, headily arranged record that surrounds Lanegan's gothic reveries in soft glowing light.
Where male falsetto voices can be unsettling - disembodied, artificial, androgynous, ethereal, cosmic, otherworldly - ultra-low-frequency voices like Mark Lanegan's are supposed to have the opposite connotations. They are supposed to suggest a reassuring rootsiness and authenticity, which is why we are comfortable with Lanegan as the godfather of grunge, as the gothic crooner, as the ravaged blues singer, the windswept acoustic troubadour. But men with very low voices aren't meant to delve into the synthetic soundscapes of electronica.
There was a time when the news that Mark Lanegan was releasing a record on Heavenly Recordings might have raised some eyebrows. How could signing the gravel-voiced frontman of second-tier Seattle grunge band Screaming Trees and occasional Queens Of The Stone Age auxiliary fit into the creative vision of a label committed to preaching the gospel of woozy psychedelia? However, since he started experimenting with more electronic textures on 2011 track 'Ode To Sad Disco', Lanegan has been on a reinvention drive, transitioning away from his traditional split menu of overdriven guitar rock and skeletal blues onto a strict diet of Beach House synths and Slowdive swells. His last record 'Phantom Radio' and its accompanying 'No Bells On Sunday' EP (both of which were recorded under his Mark Lanegan Band moniker, just to fuck with your iTunes ordering) were the first fruits of this new musical harvest.