Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
"Oh sister of mercy," intones Mark Lanegan on his first solo set in seven years, invoking Leonard Cohen, Andrew Eldritch, and countless other gothy dudes with a taste for dysfunctional relationships. Minus usual vocal sidekicks Isobel Campbell and Greg Dulli (who appears briefly on the vintage drum-machine jam "St. Louis Elegy"), Lanegan's chafed baritone works best with bold backdrops, like the dark synth-pop of "Ode To Sad Disco," which pushes his growl into weird Bono-Zooropa territory, and the monster-truck swagger of "Riot In My House," basically a Queens of the Stone Age jam with ex-bandmate Josh Homme.
Mark Lanegan BandBlues Funeral[4AD; 2012]By Nicholas Preciado; February 9, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThere are some musicians that have their heyday in their youth, and there are others who are at their best by the time they’re middle-aged. Then there are musicians, like Mark Lanegan, who age like fine wine. Although he released Hawk with former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell in 2010, this is the first solo album Lanegan’s released since 2004’s Bubblegum.
On “Deep Black Vanishing Train,” the penultimate track on Blues Funeral, the first album in nearly a decade from former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, the sandpaper-voiced singer wearily growls, “I’ve finally freed myself / But it’s been hard to break away”. If you’ve followed Lanegan’s career since The Screaming Trees’ brief flirtation with mainstream success in the early 1990s, you know that the singer has spent more than his share of time in search of an oblivion the he all too often found. Unlike several of his less fortunate Seattle-based peers (Messrs.
Ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Lanegan has collaborated with the likes of Isobel Campbell, Greg Dulli and Soulsavers in recent years. But he appears to have been hoarding his best material for his first solo album since 2004's Bubblegum, because Blues Funeral has quality to spare, from the bruising rock of "Riot in My House" to the brooding blues of "Bleeding Muddy Water". "Quiver Syndrome", meanwhile, fuses Xtrmntr-era Primal Scream with the Dandy Warhols' "Bohemian Like You" to fine effect, and the combination of Lanegan's inimitable baritone and the guitar sound of early U2 on "Harborview Hospital" is enough to send shivers down spines.
Careful fans of modern indie rock probably think they know Mark Lanegan fairly well—better, even, than the Screaming Trees from whence he once came. Latter-day Lanegan, the guttural purveyor of dark night of the soul music, the voice of swamp wind on a muddy graveyard, the sin-stoked demon growl that howitzers through the weird holes Isobel Campbell, Greg Dulli or Josh Homme leave for him in their music together. Abruptly closing a six-year hiatus from his own “band,” Blues Funeral restates all these things, but possibly even a bit more.
Mark Lanegan picked the perfect time to come back with an album. Few voices are better suited to soundtrack the death throes of a crumbling empire, and that’s precisely – if sometimes indirectly – what Blues Funeral is about: navigating desperate situations and desolate landscapes. Rihanna might have found love in a hopeless place; Lanegan’s hit a dead end.
By his own admission, Mark Lanegan has never been a heavy lifter. Perhaps that’s why the reluctant frontman has spent the better part of the last decade sharing the workload with partners as broad-shouldered (at least figuratively so) as Josh Homme, Greg Dulli, Isobel Campbell, and Englishmen Rich Machin and Ian Glover (Soulsavers). But while the soft-spoken anti-rock star with prominent black stars ironically tattooed on each of his mic-strangling fingers has seemed more than content to be the understated Gutter Twin and receive second billing behind Campbell on marquees, it’s Lanegan’s bluesy baritone that so often seizes the unwanted spotlight.
Those who liked the moodier, more atmospheric material on the last Mark Lanegan Band offering, 2004's Bubblegum, will find much to enjoy on Blues Funeral -- an album that has little to do with blues as a musical form. Lanegan has been a busy man since Bubblegum. In the nearly eight ensuing years, he's issued three records with Isobel Campbell, joined Greg Dulli in the Gutter Twins, guested on albums by the Twilight Singers and UNKLE, and was the lead vocalist on most of the last two Soulsavers offerings.
In the eyes (and ears) of certain sections of the music press, age counts for a lot. Last year’s album from Tom Waits, Bad As Me, was critically lauded far and wide (including on this website). And rightly so – although it didn’t exactly break new ground in Waits’ oeuvre, it was of sufficiently high quality as to ensconce itself in the higher echelons of his body of work.
The first Mark Lanegan Band album since 2004 (he's been busy with Soulsavers, the Gutter Twins and Isobel Campbell) contains no great shocks: for the most part, this is bluesy, lugubrious, modernish rock, elevated by Lanegan's remarkable gravel-pit of a voice. Opener The Gravedigger's Song is propelled by the thick throb of its bassline and shuffly electronic drums, but that voice is inevitably the focus. Mixed up high, it is as striking – overbearing, even – as ever, and is, it must be said, the harbinger of many lyrical cliches.
Despite releasing his last solo album in 2004, you could hardly accuse Mark Lanegan of slacking in his quest to refine new shades of black from a resolutely bleak palette. Three collaborative LPs with Isobel Campbell and one with Greg Dulli as The Gutter Twins, have kept this former Screaming Trees singer plenty busy. When he’s not been touring with The Twilight Singers and Soulsavers that is.
If you value melody and visceral thrills as a listener, it must be weird to see critics engage with the latest Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen records as if they're park rangers describing protected national treasures-- they tend to speak solely in terms of topography, remarking upon jagged outcroppings and bottomless lodes of capital-t Truth hidden in those crevasses created by years of erosion from hard living and hard liquor. Me, I don't necessarily give growling old white men the presumption of wisdom. Point being that even though Mark Lanegan will be all but grandfathered into that Hall of Fame in 20 years and will look swarthy in men's magazines proclaiming Blues Funeral to be the testosterone-boosting antidote to wimpy indie rock and fashionista hip-hop, he has every bit the obligation to avoid cliché and actually come up with good songs as everybody else.
As the collaborator of choice for any number of bands and producers – Queens of the Stone Age, The Gutter Twins, Soulsavers, Unkle and Isobel Campbell have all benefited from his growling baritone – Mark Lanegan is an artist only too quick to hitch his wagon to someone else's horse. A disingenuous view at best, it also belittles Lanegan's voice - a weapon that's grown in stature, depth and authority since he first took up singing duties with Screaming Trees back when Kurt Cobain was suffering the indignity of mopping up his alma mater's toilets. If Lanegan's collaborations since the demise of his old band at the tail end of the 90s have shown us anything, it's that he's not a singer to be tied down by a narrow musical worldview.
A mighty voice of formidably expressive multitudes, here given room to roar. Kevin Harley 2012 Like a fleeing convict whose survival demands constant movement, Mark Lanegan has lent his life-scarred blues-rock growl to various causes in recent years. But none of his hired-gun gigs – Isobel Campbell, Greg Dulli, Soulsavers – holds a candle to his first solo album since 2004’s Bubblegum.
Despite almost crossing over into the mainstream with his band of nascent grunge rockers, Screaming Trees, Mark Lanegan’s solo career has consistently been a far more interesting proposition. His 1990 debut, ‘The Winding Sheet’, stripped back the guitar-and-flannel histrionics to reveal cathartic tales of campfire doom, a ploy which was perfected by the time of 1994’s ‘Whiskey For The Holy Ghost’. Almost twenty years on from that magnum opus and Lanegan is still mired in the trenches of his own self-loathing with the rather predictably titled ‘Blues Funeral’.