Monday, October 29, 2012
review: The Mark Lanegan Band - "Blues Funeral" (4AD records 2012)
The Mark Lanegan Band
4AD records 2012
since the mid-1980's, Mark Lanegan has been one of the most powerful voices in american music. his deep baritone voice shows a set of vocal chords coated with a perfect patina that can only be reached with decades of heavy drug, alcohol, and nicotine use. the wisdom in his words verifies this lifestyle, and the fact that, thirty years later, he is still walking on this planet, creating music, and performing onstage proves that he was blessed with the rock n roll genetics needed to survive it all. he's an american classic, our generations' johnny cash, but he still resides in relative obscurity. he is best known for his work with the psychedelic classic rock seattle scene pioneers The Screaming Trees and for an impressive string of gothic americana-themed solo albums. he has been a full time member of Queens of the Stone Age, has dueted with the british chanteuse Isobel Campbell on a handful of smoky records, and has collaborated with the trip hop duo Soulsavers. He has partnered with The Afghan Whig's Greg Dulli under the banner of The Gutter Twins and has worked with... well, you get the picture. he has been a major force on the music scene for years and years, and he refuses to fit neatly into any mold of expectations.
even still, i was surprised how far his sonic palette had expanded for his most recent release, The Mark Lanegan Band's "Blues Funeral." credit is due to the hugely talented multi-instrumentalist/producer/mixer Alain Johannes (QOTSA, Chris Cornell, Eleven) who accurately performs and translates the sounds and atmosphere in Lanegan's head, and human metronome Jack Irons (pearl jam, red hot chilli peppers) is rock solid on the drums as always. "Blues Funeral" is easily one of the years' finest albums and boldly stands out amongst the massive and wide ranging catalog of Lanegan's career.
the almost industrial sounding grind of the opening track, "Gravedigger's Song," gets things moving immediately, hammering like a haunted prison chain gang. Lanegan's opening lyric, "With piranha teeth/i've been thinking of you...," sets the dark and ominous tone. (super creepy video by director Alistair Legrand)
"Bleeding Muddy Water" feels like an old slave spiritual sung under the full moonlight. over sparse instrumentation, Lanegan's haunted voice carries almost the entire weight of the song. the melody is entirely his and he's positively crooning in the chorus: "ooohhh baby, don't it feel so bad?" so fucking good.
"Grey Goes Black" veers off into different territory and is the first example throughout the album of an early 80's new wave feel, with an icy cold mopey dancefloor beat and a guitar solo that sounds like something from U2's the Edge circa 1983.
"Riot in My House"... jack irons' trademarked bedrock-deep grooves with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme bringing his hot shit licks to sexy things up. yes please. and check that tight as fuck groove at the 1:55 mark. damn that's hot stuff
the new order-style synth dance beat of "Ode to Sad Disco," in the context of Lanegan's career, comes from far out of left field and signals a dramatic shift in the albums' tone. a thread of trance-y, spaced-out electronica runs through most of side two. Lanegan sounds fucking fantastic gruffly pleading "Gloria/I get down on my knees" over a throbbing 80's dance beat. who knew?
"Phantasmagoria Blues" is an absolutely gorgeous song. once again the melody is entirely Lanegan's, beautifully sung over a plaintive sheet of sound and skittish electronic drums. the first of a series of masterpieces that dominate the last half of the album.
Lanegan is in full on new wave mode... the chorus sounds ripped straight off of an early Cars record
"Harborview Hospital," named after a rehab clinic in seattle, is the second masterpiece on the album. beautifully radiating and full of melancholic reflection.. like the clouds parting on a sad grey day and everything, for a few moments, is just perfect. the music has a shimmering liquidness to it, a subtle bass pulse is provided by ex-Porno for Pyros bassist Martyn LeNoble, and Lanegan sings "the devil's ascending/upon some crystal wings/in the citadel/lightning/splits a cloud of butterflies and fiends/and with a vacant stare/i'll leave a flower there." stunning stuff and easily one of Lanegan's best works.
the serpentine "Leviathan" slithers up the listeners spine, building to a swirling web of layered voices as Lanegan duets with Masters of Reality's Chris Goss. "everyday a prayer for what i never knew, this is one i said for you."
"Deep Black Vanishing Train" is the lone call back to the raspy, dusty folk of Lanegan's past solo work. plaintive and haunting.
"Tiny Grain of Truth," the triumphant, glowing finale, is the albums' third masterpiece... a mesmerizing drone of guitar noise washed over a steady synth drum beat, with Lanegan, the grizzled veteran, declaring "what's done is done is done now." it's a staggeringly beautiful track.
and with the end of that song, the final shovel load has been thrown on Lanegan's "Blues Funeral," and he rides off into the sunset full of unlimited possibilities and potential and ignores anything that has ever appeared in his rearview mirror... as always.
10 of 10 and a "top five album of 2012" finalist.
~reviewed by Kojak
here's a non-album track from the Blues Funeral sessions, "Burning Jacobs' Ladder."
and a fantastic set from the 4AD Sessions at Pull Studios, NYC