Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Mark Lanegan possesses one of the most versatile male singing voices on our planet, capable of assimilating to desert-baked hard rock, Lee Hazlewood-style psych-country and blackened electronic pop. The former Screaming Tree has tried his hand at so many different styles of music that it adds to the anticipation of a new album. Where will he go this time? For Phantom Radio, Lanegan doesn’t stray too far from the digital darkness that infected his last solo effort, 2012’s Blues Funeral.
Mark Lanegan BandPhantom Radio(Flooded Soil/Vagrant)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Those familiar with ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan’s extensive solo and collaborative career know what to expect. But that doesn’t make the throbbing synth and drum machine backing on his latest any less extraordinary. The singer/songwriter with the spoken/sung doomy baritone, somewhat similar to that of Nick Cave, isn’t mining new territory on these 10, generally downbeat and melancholy tracks.
Few artists can seamlessly segue from rock to electronica to country-folk, all the while carrying each project with panache rather than foundering into embarrassment. Fewer still can imbue each of these disparate genres with the distinctive mood of vintage blues. In fact, Mark Lanegan may be the single entity bearing that distinction, sidestepping into nearly every musical genre and making them sound as though they were constructed as a pulpit for him.
It’s easy to forget that Mark Lanegan has a solo career. He first came to prominence in Screaming Trees and subsequently released the likes of The Winding Sheet and Whiskey For The Holy Ghost under his own name. Yet he’s arguably more well known for his collaborative endeavours. He’s teamed up with Greg Dulli from Afghan Whigs for the quite fabulous Gutter Twins, and his work with Isobel Campbell has always been quite exquisite.
Despite writing much of ‘Phantom Radio’ on a phone app called Funk Box, Mark Lanegan boasts a melodic elegance more commonly associated with a classical orchestra. On his latest album, the gravel-voiced 49-year-old uses gospel and blues elements alongside simple metronomic beats, but his characteristically morose lyrical reflections take centre stage. “You don’t love me, what’s to love anyway?” he heaves on ‘Torn Red Heart’, a floating ballad that recalls the opiated highs of Spacemen 3.
Existing as a shadowy mountain on the horizon at every point within the rock music landscape, Mark Lanegan’s eternal presence is both reassuringly comforting and distinctly imposing. Here stands an ageless man, half-preacher, half-gravedigger who’s worked with Josh Homme, PJ Harvey, Moby, UNKLE and Isobel Campbell and probably taught them all a thing or two. He’s made classic albums in three different guises, and has left his mark across every variant of straight up rock and roll.
The Screaming Trees’ former vocalist has by now fairly firmly established himself as a kind of post-grunge/Americana Johnny Cash, with moody songs awash with tales of drug abuse, redemption and dark humour. There’s plenty of that here. “Black is my name,” he says, by way of introduction. However, where 2012’s Blues Funeral allowed a hint of yer actual goth to creep into Lanegan’s American gothic, here he indulges the post-punk and electronics he grew up with.
If there really is a Mark Lanegan Band, it apparently consists of Lanegan and Alain Johannes; despite the collective billing, as on 2012's Blues Funeral, the only consistent presence besides Lanegan on 2014's Phantom Radio is producer and multi-instrumentalist Johannes, who provides the guitar and keyboards that dominate the set, giving it a clean electronic sheen, even when the album is going for a darker, atmospheric tone on numbers such as "The Wild People" and "Judgement Time. " Of course, as Lanegan showed on his albums with the Soulsavers, his resonant vocals and dour lyrics can put a lot of flesh and blood on an electronic framework, and he performs the same feat on Phantom Radio. While this music is, for the most part, noticeably simpler and more pop-oriented than his Soulsavers recordings, songs like "Waltzing in Blue," "The Killing Season," and "Floor of the Ocean" manage to sound polished on the surface while Lanegan gives them a rough-hewn gravity, fusing the timeless spirit of classic blues and rural folk songs to music clearly rooted in the 21st century.
Two years ago Mark Lanegan made something of a surprise return with the release of Blues Funeral - an hour-long titan of a record that moved through gothic rock, synth and grunge with free flowing ease. As Lanegan's first album in eight years, it not only won him a new generation of fans but also ushered in a deserved retrospective of his legendary grunge outfit Screaming Trees. Blues Funeral revealed a more seasoned artist, one whose vocals, lyrics and musical approach had moved beyond the restrictions of a short-sighted era.
If there’s a constant in Mark Lanegan’s personal and professional life, it’s in his tendency to periodically flush out everything he knows. Booze, heroin, bands, and collaborators have all framed his existence with some kind of meaning and then been tossed out, sometimes returning, sometimes remaining dead and buried. Blues Funeral—Lanegan’s stubbornly against-type 2012 album, where he folded in, of all things, an impulse for electronica and a dash of New Romantic swagger—had started to look like an anomaly in his canon, a bungled attempt at channeling unlikely influences that were then left to drift into the pool of past-life identities he’s accumulated.
Since his days fronting grunge-era rockers Screaming Trees, baritone growler Mark Lanegan has pursued a raw, doomy primitivism. This is a 21st-century version of the same: Phantom Radio was recorded using an iPhone drum-machine app called FunkBox, and it sounds like a solitary dance party in a serial killer's backwoods shed. "Smelling the incense of/The perfume of your blood," Lanegan rumbles over a trip-hop beat on "The Killing Season." As creepy as this can be, there's also a grim beauty; on "Torn Red Heart," Lanegan sings about heartbreak and salvation and stakes his claim as the Leonard Cohen of the alt-rock moaners.
On ninth album Phantom Radio, former Screaming Trees vocalist and Queens of the Stone Age contributor Mark Lanegan and his band have channeled post-punk influences and grunge peers for an art-pop blended piece of American goth. Lanegan kicks the Joy Division synths into overdrive and uses the sound as a vehicle for his dark, Tom Waits-esque poetry.The moody tone of the album is established with the celestial ruminations of "Harvest Home," which, along with "Judgment Time," reveals Lanegan's penchant for rarely letting songs evolve in a traditional or straightforward manner. The synthesizers serve this arrangement, providing soundscapes over which Lanegan melodically projects his thoughts on death, heaven, hell and sin.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Under normal conditions of standard sunlight and unlimited Guinness I would absolutely love Mark Lanegan. His old band Screaming Trees gave me unimaginable pleasure, particularly that bloody "" song I couldn't stop playing back before Britpop brought us Sleeper and ruined everything. His collaborations with the likes of Greg Dulli, UNKLE and Queens of the Stone Age are frequently exceptional.