Mark Lanegan Band

Blues Funeral

Written by: TL on 17/05/2012 15:01:11

On my list of "artists I'd like to some day become familiar with", 90's cult grunge band Screaming Trees have long figured as an entry that I've consistently failed to get around to. On one hand, I suppose this makes me poorly suited to review "Blues Funeral", the first album in 8 years from Mark Lanegan who, apart from fronting Screaming Trees through 15 years and 8 LP's, also have six solo albums out prior to this one already. On the other hand, given that most RF writers grew up with the music of the early 00s, I'm probably the only person on our staff that has even thought of paying Lanegan any attention in 2012 and hence it seems that I am - perhaps sadly - the best we have available.

If you're a younger reader, and thus far as unfamiliar with Mark Lanegan as I have been, it serves to recount that it's been 8 years since his last solo record "Bubblegum", and it's only after spending those years in various collaborations with the likes of Soulsavers, The Gutter Twins and Queens Of The Stone Age, that Lanegan now again finds himself fronting his own band, which on "Blues Funeral" enlists the help of notable guest musicians such as Josh Homme from QOTSA, Greg Dulli of The Gutter Twins, The Twilight Singers and The Afghan Whigs and guitarist/bassist/keyboardist/percussionist/producer/backing singer Alain Johannes, just to name a few.

If you wonder what to expect from such a constellation, the answer is dusty, desert-night blues, played mostly at a grown up's steady, droning tempo with Lanegan's dark, whiskey drenched barytone sounding like a cemetary echo. Imagine QOTSA slowed to a half pace both majestic and menacing with singing that will occasionally frighten Christian Bale's Batman and you're in the neighbourhood of what this sounds like.

Considering the impressive track record I referenced it is perhaps no surprise to find that the output on "Blues Funeral" is a good deal more classy, mature, cool and consistent than pretty much anything you'll have heard from comparatively young artists with 'only' one to five LP's under their belts. Especially the first five tracks out of the album's twelve are impressive, with Lanegan laying instantly recognisable and memorable refrains down on top of dense, immersive, western-type soundscapes. Especially opener "The Gravedigger's Song" impresses with its angry main riff, as does "St. Louis Elegy" which provides the haunting lyrics "if tears were liqour, I'd have drunk myself sick". Moreover, songs like that and the psychedelic "Grey Goes Black" are probably the closest fans of The Doors will come to hearing a modern equivalent in 2012.

Now, while "Blues Funeral" maintains a pretty impressive average quality, I do have a few gripes with it, chief among which is the inclusion of "Ode To Sad Disco", which sits dead in the centre of the record at track six. For the most part, the electronic elements on the album are kept super classy and only serve as nuances to the badass rock'n'roll that's in focus, yet the synths and beats on this one not only suits Lanegan's singing like pink polka dots on a black motorcycle, they also sound completely out of place on the album, so if I were Lanegan, I'd have kept elements like that for my work with Soulsavers. Especially because the track works like a distinct break between the album's strong first half, and a second half that I find to be slightly weaker. "Quiver Syndrome" and "Harborview Hospital" are worth weathering "Ode To Sad Disco For", but they're surrounded by four other numbers that don't strike me as quite as powerful as anything from the album's opening half.

"Blues Funeral" then is a strong and elegant comeback for Mark Lanegan, and one that's definitely worth checking out, also for curious young music fans, who will probably be surprised to hear Lanegan's vocal opposite to the high-pitched, auto-tuned squealers popular with so many modern bands. It's not a perfect album, as it tends to get less engaging moving across its middle, and it does have one decisive misstep in "Ode To Sad Disco", but when that's been said, it's best moments are quite excellent, and grouped as they are at the near end of the album, they should at least have you coming back to enjoy that half often enough.

Download: The Gravedigger's Song, St. Louis Elegy, Riot In My House, Quiver Syndrome,
For The Fans Of: The Twilight Singers, Queens Of The Stone Age, Screaming Trees, The Gutter Twins, The Doors, The National, The Horrors

Release Date 06.02.2012

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