It's early days, and it will need a few months to bed in, but this may possibly be his strongest collection of songs yet. Bubblegum is a great album, but one I feel would have been even stronger with two or three songs removed, whereas this one is more consistent. Favourite songs change from day to day, with Phantasmagoria Blues and Deep Black Vanishing Train being my current picks, but all the songs are strong, and with Ode To Sad Disco he could potentially have a hit single with a bit of radio play (whether this would actually be a good thing or not is another matter). The musical backing to THAT voice has changed over the last couple of releases from the earlier material, introducing new sonic textures which keep his sound from going stale, though to be honest he could probably sing over someone banging on an old bath tub and it would still sound pretty decent. If you are a fan of any of his other work with The Screaming Trees, Isobel Cambell, Gutter Twins, QOTSA and particularly Soulsavers which seem to have been a subtle influence on this album, then I strongly suggest you invest in this stellar piece of work.
I have long been a fan of Mark Lanegan's work with other artists, notably his collaborations with Isobel Campbell, but have heard very little of his solo stuff. And having heard this 2012 release I think I have been missing out!
As I said, I heard of Lanegan through his collaboration with Campbell, so was a little unprepared for what I heard here. It's certainly not as laid back as I was expecting! From the off this is an album of guitar and drum led fast blues, with a muscular musical backing that provides a perfect backdrop for Lanegan's gravelly, abused voice. And it's that voice, full of expression and pain, that dominates the album.
This will probably draw a few critics, but I occasionally found myself comparing this to some of Leonard Cohen's work, especially on the album The Future. Their voices have a lot in common, and whilst Cohen's backing was never as rocky as Lanegan's, the arrangements were at times similar. In tone `Harbour View' in particular reminded me of Cohen's `Democracy'. The songwriting doesn't quite reach the same levels of beauty, but there are sad and moving tales here of times past that really do leave their mark on you.
In all, it's a muscular, elegiac anthem to the past, with Lanegan's tortured growl lending the music real weight and dignity. I love it, 5 stars. And here's hoping the rest of his back catalogue is as good.
"Blues Funeral" is the first Mark Lanegan record to be released in seven long years. Despite releasing collaborative records by the truck-load in that time, it has been quite a long wait for fans to be treated to another outing from this musician's solo songwriting prowess. What is offered up on "Blues Funeral" is an evolution of all the different sounds that Lanegan has explored since his previous solo effort, Bubblegum. To most, this will seem like a natural progression, but long-time fans will probably raise an eyebrow in skeptical surprise upon the opening bars of some of the tracks. I would like to assure those fans that even the most unusual of songs on "Blues Funeral" will begin to fit into place quite quickly upon repeat listens.
The lead track is also the first single, "The Gravedigger's Song" which opens with a very Queens of the Stone Age-style rhythm and tone to it. Compared with openers on Lanegan's previous albums ("One Way Street" on "Field Songs" or "When Your Number Isn't Up" on "Bubblegum" for example) this is a fast and heavy rock song that belts out at full force. The record takes a rather lucid step back immediately with a trio of haunting and familiar tracks, the superb "Bleeding Muddy Water," the guitar driven "Gray Goes Black" and "St. Louis Elegy" which could have happily fit in on Lanegan's collaborative work with Greg Dulli as The Gutter Twins. By now, fans are likely getting confident that this is a typical Mark Lanegan affair and that there will be few surprises to come, which in all honesty, is what most would be looking for. Get ready for a surprise.
"Riot in My House" comes through the speakers next, almost a throwback to the Screaming Trees days, with a scorching guitar track coupled with keyboards and very forward drums. The track reminds us of the "Here Comes This Weird Chill" sound, which is very raw and gritty, almost under-produced to radical effect. Just as you are caught off-guard with this kick from above, "Ode to Sad Disco" thumps at you with it's dance-y synth and snare-heavy disco beats. Initially, this track made me look at the back of the CD case to make sure that I hadn't somehow picked up the wrong record, but after the surprise wears off, it begins to make sense as to why Lanegan has produced this song and why it actually fits perfectly into the record. He had just done two records with British Electro band Soulsavers and worked with UNKLE. After two or three listens, "Ode to Sad Disco" is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It is perhaps a little long, at over 6 minutes, but it's an addictive steady track that really shows off Lanegan's ability to write great songs.
We are then treated to the unmistakably Lanegan "Phantasmagoria Blues" with its slow intensity, the guitar-pop Live-favourite "Quiver Syndrome" and what is ultimately the future-classic of this record, "Harbourview Hospital." This track just comes together so perfectly as a mesh of the new band's understanding of the message with a truly heartfelt retrospective from the singer. During his recent tour, Lanegan has already recognised the universally positive reaction to this song and has chosen it as the penultimate track (right before "Metamphetamine Blues" at most gigs) to enchant his audience.
The album's final act is met with the bizarre "Leviathan," undoubtedly the oddball track on the record and the incredible "Deep Vanishing Train" which songs as if it could have been anywhere on the epic "Field Songs" album. Mark Lanegan closes out this new record with a 7 minute Electro track, "Tiny Grains of Truth" that bids a fond farewell to what has been his most ambitious solo record to date.
Overall, it's hard to fault "Blues Funeral" at all. To nit-pick a little, I must admit that some of the tracks bleed on a little long. There are plenty over the 6 minute mark, and particularly at recent gigs, they felt a little drawn out. There is little else negative to say. Upon repeat listens, it is very clear that this is an optimistic record, albeit one with demons. When the album goes into full gear and is throwing the heavier rock tracks at you, they feel very fresh and alive, with a vibrance not seen on the Soulsavers or Gutter Twins records. Lanegan is the man in front, fully in control of the music, and while those collaborations have been instrumental in giving him the experience and bravery to try new things, the freedom he exudes here is almost like a sigh of joyous relief. This is reinforced by the fact that he has brought in Greg Dulli, Josh Homme and a few others to be guests on the record, but it is almost impossible to tell where these guests have had an input. This is a Mark Lanegan record through and through, from beginning to end.
To compare "Blues Funeral" with Lanegan's earlier records is difficult, as it is hard to stand tall against a record as truly remarkable as Lanegan; Mark - Field Songs (NEW CD) or as universally appealing as "Bubblegum." What we have here is a new sound, one that is completely ready to establish Mark Lanegan as one of the most amazing songwriters out there. It is hoped that this record can bring him more widespread notice, and I hope it does, because "Blues Funeral" is definitely an early candidate for album of the year.