Release Date: Jan 14, 2014
Record label: Light in the Attic Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Of the bands that rose to fame during the late-'80s/early-'90s grunge sweepstakes, the Screaming Trees were always darker, heavier, and trippier than their peers, with a vague folkie undertow to go along with the electric guitars, and lead singer Mark Lanegan's solo career suggests that a lot of the band's musical personality came from him and not just the instrumentalists. From his first solo album, 1990's The Winding Sheet, Lanegan showed he had a distinctive sonic and lyrical outlook to go along with his deep, smoky voice, with one foot stuck in the blues and the other in some imagined landscape where love, luck, and alcohol are tricky commodities in short supply, and he's expanded greatly on that vision over the course of an increasingly ambitious solo career. Has God Seen My Shadow? An Anthology 1989-2011 is a compilation that presents a useful overview of Lanegan's solo work, pulling representative tracks from his first six albums -- from The Winding Sheet to 2004's Bubblegum -- along with a pair of rare single sides and a bonus disc that includes 12 previously unreleased performances.
It is tragic to know that the more one considers life, the more susceptible they are to being defeated by it—even if there is that faint everlasting hope of rising again. Mark Lanegan is a man obsessed with his own inevitable and repeated demise, but whose heart is so large that it anchors him to life. He is one of contemporary music’s greatest existentialists and romantics, who bares his soul through an immortal, raspy voice that is as recognizable as it is ethereal.
In 1990, Screaming Trees mainman Mark Lanegan released his first solo album, The Winding Sheet, marking the beginning of a lugubrious career that’s run alongside the prolific output of his many other projects. This 32-track collection gathers a selection of those low-lit songs across two discs. The result is one marvellously gloomy overview of this aspect of Lanegan’s career.
Well before the Seattle rock scene of the late-80s became fodder for big-screen rom-coms, Marc Jacob-designed runway collections, and ill-conceived trend pieces by easily duped New York Times writers, Mark Lanegan was already plotting a life after grunge. Of all the handsome, long-haired Emerald City singers to front rock bands that sold hundreds of thousands of records in the early 90s, Lanegan ranked a distant fifth in high-school-locker pin-up potential, exuding neither the bare-chested sex appeal of Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder nor the fashionable misanthropy of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. Even within the context of his own band, the Screaming Trees, Lanegan felt like the odd man out, his bronchial drawl serving as a grainy, black-and-white contrast to the band’s kaleidoscopic surges.
The problem for a perpetual collaborator is that you can often be known more for who you’ve worked with than for your own creations. That’s certainly the case for Mark Lanegan, who is often referred to as a part of Queens of the Stone Age or the Lee Hazlewood to Isobel Campbell’s Nancy Sinatra, despite a long and illustrious solo career and as the main creative force behind grunge perennials Screaming Trees. Perhaps one reason why Lanegan hasn’t scored more of the spotlight is because, whether it’s his own song or someone else’s, he effectively does the same thing – turn up and unleash that dark, brooding scratch of a voice.
This beautifully packaged anthology traces the former Screaming Trees frontman's journey toward becoming gothic Americana's own Man in Black. It's a role he's clearly grown into, navigating the dark waters between blackness, self-parody and beautiful songwriting with increasing aplomb. The two CDs are full of trademark ruminations on death, religion and drunkenness (of the kind that sees him drinking "so much sour whiskey that I can't see").
The voice of Mark Lanegan is one of the greatest in music, plain and simple. Lyrically, he reinforces the amazing strength of his vocal cords with hard-scrabble tales of temptation and revenge, told with Biblical heft. Has God Seen My Shadow? collects Lanegan's solo work, but makes it more apparent that when left simply to his own devices, there's a dynamic missing.
If anyone that rose from the Seattle band boom of the 1980’s/90’s deserves an anthology of their solo work it is Mark Lanegan. Sure, Kurt Cobain is more famous and didn’t record much alone, Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley is more a tragic figure and Chris Cornell may be more of a recognizable name but, Jesus Christ, have you heard Cornell’s solo work? He is living proof that a great guitarist (Kim Thayil/ Tom Morello) can save a sinking ship. Lanegan doesn’t need someone to make him great, he does fine by himself and it shows with the anthology of his solo work Has God Seen My Shadow?- An Anthology 1989-2011 (Light in the Attic).
Mark Lanegan is by now indisputably a legend of the alternative rock realm. Even so, the wider public may still know the 49-year old vocalist best from his many collaborations. From early work as the frontman of Washington State’s grunge-era could-have-beens the Screaming Trees (1985 – 2000) to regular appearances with Queens Of The Stone Age, with assorted projects with the Soulsavers, scruff-blues guitarist Duke Garwood and, most famously, a few modern day Nancy-and-Lee platters with Isobel Campbell sprinkled along the way, Lanegan’s steadily built a reputation as the go-to guy for bible-black rock survivalist gravitas.
In sampling the prolific career of one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in American music, Has God Seen My Shadow? does not offer itself as a comprehensive overview. Nor does it pretend to be a variety showcase. Instead it aims for the consistent, narrowing its focus on the quintessential character of Lanegan's music: the deep-voiced, muscular presence behind those dark dirges of melancholy and despair.