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Hmm... A disappointment. Okay in places, but I hoped for so much more
on 21 February 2012
Despite Mark Lanegan being my favourite vocalist of the last twenty years, when I first heard Blues Funeral I was initially very disappointed. Deliberately, I didn't rush to become one of the first to review it here in case I gave the album an unfair critique. Aside from 'Gravedigger Song' and perhaps 'Riot in my House' there didn't seem to be any other standout tracks on the album, so I've spent the last few weeks re-listening to it in the hope that Blues Funeral might grow on me. On every listen, I've desperately waited for it to reveal some hidden musical depths that I may have overlooked at first, but sadly, to no avail.
I have been a Mark Lanegan fan ever since Screaming Trees released their classic 'Sweet Oblivion' in 1992, and I have followed his career closely since. In all, Mark Lanegan has produced some amazing tunes over his well-established career, though to be honest, there have been a fair amount of disposable tracks in his otherwise remarkable solo output. I agree with another reviewer here that 2004's 'Bubblegum' is perhaps his crowning achievement, so it is not that I am in any way stuck in the past. I just don't think Blues Funeral is particularly inspired, or to put it bluntly, it simply isn't that good.
I think Lanegan's lyrics here come across more disingenuous than past offerings, as if he is trying too hard to be dark and moody, which detracts from the realism and (seemingly genuine) despair that has permeated his previous albums. It is as if he finally sees himself as a marketable commodity, and that the 'gloom' Lanegan pedals is what makes his product profitable. This may seem harsh but it leaves me with that impression, and the bland, unimaginative or outright cheesy musical scores that accompany many of the tracks on Blues Funeral do little to bolster what, to me at least, is an album that both tried too hard and didn't try hard enough... and failed. Most of it just blends into the background with the wallpaper, as if it isn't there at all. A far cry from 'Bubblegum' then, where every track cried out to be heard.
To the uninitiated, it's definitely worth checking out most of Mark Lanegan's earlier solo work, plus the later 'Screaming Trees' albums and his fabulous collaborations with Greg Dulli as the 'Gutter Twins' (Isobel Campbell's voice is an acquired taste, but there's some great material there, too)