My only previous exposure to Mark Lanegan’s music was through his Screaming Trees band as the grunge movement was coming to the fore in the early 90s. For this, his eleventh solo album, I was expecting more of the same -brooding, gritty lyrics leaden with heavy, industrial guitars. How wrong I was. There are as much electronic and synth-driven tracks here such as ‘Dark Disco Jag’ & ‘Playing Nero’ as there are alt-rock sounds. And it really works.
The opening track, ‘Disbelief Suspension’ is a rousing, menacing starter with Lanegan’s lyrics cutting through
(“’til it hurts, ’til it hurts..”). In some ways, this album almost feels like a dedication from Lanegan to some of the legendary post-punk and gothic acts of the 80s such as The Mission and Joy Division. There’s a couple of songs where you can almost hear Peter Hook’s bassline (‘She Loved You’) and the ghost of Ian Curtis singing (‘Gazing from the Shore’).
This album really captures Lanegan’s versatility and fearless ability to experiment; something he has never been
afraid to do in a 35-year musical career. Previous collaborations have included Duff McKagan, PJ Harvey, Isobel Campbell (ex Belle & Sebastian), Massive Attack & Moby.
At over six minutes, ‘Penthouse High’ is a standout track. Despite the darkness and honest regret of the lyrics
(“There’s ghosts inside this house…I can’t stop dreaming, there’s no coming back”), the song is full of hope, depth and light. ‘Paper Hat’ brings back the mellow, electronic beats with a confidence and an ease in Lanegan’s tones.
‘Two Bells Ringing at Once’ is a beautiful, poignant end to the album with the lack of guitars again evident.
Lanegan’s voice, poetic lyrics (“Death at my back, I outran the seraphim”) and keyboards are all that is needed to bring this diverse journey of musical accomplishment to a close.