It’s probably wrong to label Mark Lanegan’s career disappointing but it has been. For a talent of this magnitude to remain far from a household name for as long as Lanegan has is a shame. Maybe this is Mark Lanegan’s wish. He certainly doesn’t seem to relish what he does—especially on stage. It appears that he might be most comfortable when the spotlight is on someone else. The last eight years have been spent collaborating and releasing material with Isobel Campbell, Greg Dulli and Soulsavers (among others) while depriving the public of some much wanted solo material. Prior to that, Lanegan spent more time entertaining QOTSA fans than his own. Maybe Blues Funeral will change that.
Mark Lanegan doesn’t make bad records in the same vein that Nick Cave and Tom Waits don’t make bad records—there are some that are better than others but nothing really blows. Lanegan certainly isn’t impervious to criticism—he has flaws and limitations that have plagued a release or two and his work with Isobel Campbell has been polarizing. Fortunately, Blues Funeral, while far from perfect, has more than enough solid moments that connect to keep things interesting. Opening with a pulsating kick, “The Gravedigger’s Song” finds Lanegan embracing an electronic sound that thumps and pumps behind his trademark gravel spiked baritone. The electronics don’t stop there. Every space on the record is filled with some sound or another, which isn’t always a good thing. “Ode to Sad Disco” lays the glam and glitz on a bit thick while stripped down tracks like “Bleeding Muddy Water” and “St. Louis Elegy” are washed in electronic beats. This leaves you with the feeling that some of these tracks need to breathe, but to Lanegan and producer Alain Johannes’ credit, they make most of it work by creating an interesting blend of textures that work with and against the coarseness of Lanegan’s voice. This is highlighted in the modern noir feel of “Grey Goes Black” and the solemnness of “Phantasmagoria Blues” and “Harborview Hospital.”
Blues Funeral is one of those records that immediately grabs your ear and continues to grow even if you have to hear Lanegan utter some of the more questionable lyrics of his career. But does it really matter what he sings? Wouldn’t we all pay to just hear him sing the phone book? There’s a reason why he’s a vocalist in demand and why so many of us want him to focus more on Mark Lanegan and less on the collaborative end. [4AD]
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