Mark Lanegan -Straight Songs of Sorrow – Album Review
by Killian Laher
Mark Lanegan has really upped his workrate in recent years, as well as this album he has just released an autobiography. This, his 12th album, was recorded to give a kind of overview of his whole solo career, so there are songs that echo the more stripped down feel of his earlier solo albums, as well as the fuller, more electronic stuff that he does now. The electronics are very much to the fore on opening track I Wouldn’t Want To Say, with synths, beats and static clashing with Lanegan’s voice on a slightly disjointed track. Midway through the album, Internal Hourglass Discussion makes another attempt at this sort of thing but again it doesn’t really work.
For the first time in years, Lanegan has gone back to doing more folky material. Apples From A Tree is basically just Lanegan singing as well as he has ever sang over plucked guitars. The bleak, sparse Stockholm City Blues is one of the most affecting songs not only on this album but that Lanegan has written in years. Light touch fingerpicking of what could be a banjo rather than guitar, combines with occasional strings as Lanegan sings “the rain is making rivers of the Stockholm streets, soaking through my coat”. A similar style is served up with the brooding folk of Daylight In The Nocturnal House, albeit with the addition of strings. It’s all very reminiscent of his early solo work, specifically Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. The dark lament Hanging On (for DRC) is as direct as the album gets, singing about his friendship with Earth’s Dylan Carlson (“by all rights we should be gone, but you and me hanging on, a thousand ways we could have died”) over a banjo and little else.
The Joy Division influence prominent of late is present and correct on his duet with his wife Shelly O’Brien, This Game of Love, all wrapped up in chilly synths. But when you scratch behind that you’ll find a classic melody with echoes of Tim Hardin’s If I Were A Carpenter. The creeping, brooding Ketamine suits him well, while the gorgeous bed of sound on Churchbells, Ghosts will keep you listening to this one for many months to come. This latter track represents a true marriage of the old and the new, an old school bluesy lament enhanced with modern, electronic flourishes. Later we get Skeleton Key which might be an ode to perseverance from Lanegan, singing “I will make my own way to the other side… I will sing to you a song of sorrow” over swelling synths. But it’s very much Lanegan in reflective mode, musically and lyrically. Burying Ground bears this out as he sings “I’ve been up Lord, I’ve been down, feel like I’m heading to that burying ground”. Warren Ellis’ fiddle opens At Zero Below, where Lanegan sings with his old mate (and ex-Gutter Twin) Greg Dulli. The album ends on an uplifting note with the majestic, string-soaked duet between Lanegan and Simon Bonney (Crime & The City Solution) on Eden Lost and Found.
One or two songs such as Bleed All Over are standard-issue Lanegan of the last five or six years, and are unremarkable. A minor complaint though with 15 songs to choose from. It’s a lot to digest, and it will take several listens to take it all in. But there’s a depth and wealth of material here, as good as anything he’s done previously.
Track List –
1. I Wouldn’t Want To Say
2. Apples From A Tree
3. This Game of Love
5. Bleed All Over
6. Churchbells, Ghosts
7. Internal Hourglass Discussion
8. Stockholm City Blues
9. Skeleton Key
10. Daylight In The Nocturnal House
11. Ballad of a Dying Rover
12. Hanging On (For DRC)
13. Burying Ground
14. At Zero Below
15. Eden Lost And Found