The world got a bit bleaker this week with the sad loss of Mark Lanegan. I’m struggling to accept that Mark Lanegan is dead. He seemed indestructible. After being practically at death’s door in the 90s, hopelessly hooked on heroin, he seemed to come out of it intact, his only addiction was to making music. Sadly, as documented in his recent book Devil In A Coma, COVID hit him hard last year, most likely destroying his body’s defences.
While not a household name, to anyone who followed American music in the nineties, Mark Lanegan was one of the great voices to come out of the American Northwest. Born in Ellensburg, Washington in 1964, he escaped a troubled upbringing by joining Gary Lee, Van Conner and Mark Pickerel as the lead singer of the Screaming Trees. He gradually found his voice through some decent albums in the 1980s none of which have aged badly, unlike some more popular acts from the era.
Bucking the established trend, the Screaming Trees actually improved when they signed to a major label in the early 90s, really coming into their stride with 1992’s Sweet Oblivion. Nearly Lost You was plucked from this to appear in the Singles movie.
However, this didn’t lead to success for the Screaming Trees, their sound wasn’t heavy enough to be classed as pure grunge, it was more of a hard rock/ classic rock sound. The Conner brothers didn’t quite ‘fit’ the early 90’s aesthetic and to compound it, Lanegan’s battle with heroin meant it took four years to follow up Sweet Oblivion. By the time Dust appeared it was probably their finest album but their ‘moment’ had well and truly passed It was around this point I discovered the band, and I got hooked very swiftly, seeking out all of his albums.
Mark Lanegan concurrently had a solo career which produced numerous highlights, coming into his stride on 1994’s Whiskey for the Holy Ghost.
His own solo work blossomed as well with some superb albums and became increasingly electronic in recent years, with Joy Division becoming more of an influence but still maintaining that incredible voice.
In a live setting his performances were fairly no frills, he just showed up and sang the shit out of his songs. But his gigs were always a must-see. Lanegan is a rarity in that there are no real missteps in his back catalogue, even 2013’s Imitations covers album has some decent moments on it. He found happiness in recent years with his wife Shelley Brien, moving to Killarney in 2020, all the while producing exceptionally good music, right up to his sad death at the age of 57.
Listen to the albums, any of his albums. Keep them very safe, you’ll need them. To quote Lanegan: “living ain’t hard, it’s just not easy” (Stay).