8 November 2014

Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio

This man has been given a strange and wonderful life.  Mark Lanegan was born in 1964 and at the age of twenty started Screaming Tree, they went on to release seven studio albums and folded just as the world started to pay attention.  But it is after that part of his life that Mr Lanegan's musical career started to take flight - The Gutter Twins, Queens Of The Stone Age, Mad Seasons, Soulsavers - these are just some of the band's that Mr Lanegan has been involved with.  With a voice as distinct as Tom Waits and a mournful tone that would tempt an angel to leave the halo at home, Mark Lanegan has been given many accolades over the year.  He is also one of the few non-UK artists to be nominated for a Mercury Music Prize as part of his collaboration with UK based artist Isobel Campbell.  But his solo career has always been going in the background.  Since 1990, he has released nine solo albums in total, this one being the first to be done under the name Mark Lanegan Band.  I was not going to look into this one, but something told me to have a look.  It might have been the cover, it might have been one guy emailing me for the last two weeks asking for this everyday; either way, here it is.

Starting the album is “Harvest Moon” which is almost cheerful to the point of scary.  Musically, it has shades of Lanegan former band – Screaming Trees.  It has a feeling of summer to the music, yet the lyrics are an iconic opposite to the tune.  Images of death and a poor man’s harvest are all over this tune, it has quite a lot in common with The Smiths and Morrissey; also his voice is just dripping with emotion that you could drink in for hours on end and never get sick of the taste.  “Judgement Time” is the complete opposite to “Harvest Moon”; it is a slow and haunting number with just organ, guitar and that voice.  It shares a lot of similarities to artists such as Nick Cave, Johnny Cash and old blues artist like Leadbelly.  The only problem with the song is that it is over too soon, I could have swam in that misery for longer; but at least it is not dragged out to the point of apathy.  The third track of the album is “Floor Queen” which brings the disco to the album; we will just let that rest there for a second.  It was a little bit of a surprise to me, but obviously I have not been listening to too much of Mr Lanegan’s work recently.  This time it feels like you have a tribute to Depeche Mode here, but the dark and dangerous version of Depeche Mode around the time of Violator (review of said album cleverly linked here).   It is a strange number to be honest, something I was not expecting but here is the rub; it works.  By the deity does it work and it makes for such an interesting listen, it makes me wonder which style Mr Lanegan is going to pick next?

The style of “The Killing Season” once again seems to be a very different tune to the rest of the album, hold on slight similarities with “Harvest Moon” in terms of style, if not happiness.  This is the more moody and sour brother of that tune, the guitars seem to be playing a different tune to the rest of the song at time and it is a little distracting; but it does not spoil of ruin the track, it just makes me wonder if the ‘less is more’ approach could have been given to this song.  “Seventh Day” sounds like an old Western song, with a mixture of blues guitar, 80’s bass and 90’s electronica that creates another strange and almost disturbing piece of music.  The vocals are superb, the music is strange and mis-matched in places and yet again it is not to the determent of the song.  I am rarely surprised with people I have heard before and it is nice when an artist does something that you were not expecting, even if it is a mixture of Depeche Mode and strange Western tunes.  “I Am The Wolf” is a haunting number, starting off with a finger plucking guitar rhythm and feedback just off the edge of hearing that matches the tone of the flamenco playing and Lanegan’s stunning performance.  This is one hell of a tune, sending shivers up and down my spine – breathtaking.

“Torn Red Heart” is quite possibly the strangest tribute to the ‘Pet Sound’ era Beach Boys that I have heard in an awful long time, it washes over you like ‘Psycho Candy’ era Jesus & The Mary Chain, but without that spike of evil that came from the Scottish group.  It has a broken soul that is tied to a flag for all to see, you would have to be made of stone to deny this.  It is a gentle as a stream and as patient and strong as the water which will weather you down till you submit to its will.  “Waltzing In Blue” is another out of the box number that keeps up with the album’s  ethos of changing the style once again; however, we are now back to Depeche Mode and this could have easily been done for their album – ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’.  The nature of the song sounds like it has come from a man on the edge of what he can give; he will either break or change, but the situation cannot stay the same.  This is another highlight of the album and will be another addition to the man’s collection of heart breaking anthems.  Penultimate song “The Wild People” is another slow strumming number, but it does not have that emotional pull of “I Am The Wolf” or “Judgement Time”.  It is still a decent number, but it does not have the depth of those other numbers.  Ending the album is “Death Trip To Tulsa” which bring the album full circle, the songs seems to collect all the styles that have been played on the album and merge them into a ball of pain to present to the world.  Misery has not sounded this good for an awfully long time and Lanegan might say he is on a trip to Tulsa, but really he is prepared to head into the gates of Hell with all guns blazing and no prisoners in his wake.

Now this is not the album I was expecting at all.  It is just unnerving and slightly exciting if I am honest, it is nice to be surprised these days; rarely do you have an artist who is willing to change his style (granted, moody indie from moody rock is not the greatest change; but it is still different) and it takes a lot of balls to do that.  The songs are brilliant to listen to, the artwork is great and the overall package is amazing.  But it is not perfect, it reminds me too much of other artist and their moments in the sun.  Because of this it is not a perfect album, but it is a stunningly good one in the same breath and makes me wonder what is he going to do next?

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track – Death Trip To Tulsa

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