Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mark Lanegan Has A Blues Funeral

As frontman for Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Lanegan needs no introduction. Both bands broke enough ground that they sometimes swallow up some of his numerous projects like Soulsavers, Gutter Twins, The Twilight Singers (on occasion), and others.

And then in 2003, of course, there was the gritty and tenacious release of Here Comes The Weird Chill by The Mark Lanegan Band. It was a brazenly dark and delicious exploration of expression that was much loved but still somewhat left lurking on the fringe of his other solo work, like Bubblegum.

Not this time. Blues Funeral is an alternative blues rock powerhouse that pulses up from six feet under. It's not Bubblegum or Weird Chill, but something better. It carries forward some of the same shuddering feelings but often with a bigger, bass-heavy voice and thick lyrics.

Blues Funeral is a meticulously haunting love affair with everything under the veil.

The nearly decade long wait to revive this remarkable direction catches Lanegan exactly where he needs to be to deliver it. The music is intensely intimate, reaching out and enveloping everything.

The album leads off with The Gravedigger's Song, a driving introduction that sets the tone of the album with a beautiful gloominess. It's a crushing contrast to anything being produced by the pop quarters and momentarily makes you fall in love with music all over again, right down to the French verse.

Everything is black, my love. Everything is white. I love you, my love. As I like the night.

The obsessiveness isn't all spent on ghostly love and infatuation. It's only the beginning. The surrender in Bleeding Muddy Water with its slow beat blues is infectious. The brooding lament of St. Louis Elegy captivates with its twisting end-of-the-line lyrics. And Riot In My House retracks the pace of the album with some crunchy guitars and an uptempo beat fronted by a celebration of savored chaos.

The album doesn't miss a beat becoming more eclectic as it carries on. Ode To Sad Disco is an awakening song, both spooky and romantically melodic. Phantasmagoria Blues washes over with a regretful sorrow, someone trading in integrity for success. Harborview Hospital is both sad and thoughtful, referencing the life, death, and sickness found inside the song's namesake.

The entire album strikes hot and heavy, with the last three songs sure to be among my underplayed favorites. Leviathan, Deep Black Vanishing Train, and Tiny Grain Of Truth are all contemplative and end-of-life exposes like only Lanegan can deliver. Sometimes it's as if he glimpsed other people's last chance at redemption or maybe he remembers one of his own.

The best made better by some of the finest collaborators in music and film. 

The album was produced in Los Angeles with Alain Johannes (Them Crooked Vultures) and Jack Irons (Pearl Jam) handling most of the production. Irons also guests on some of the tracks, along with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Greg Dulli (The Twilight Singers).

The Gravedigger's Song video was crafted by Allstair Legrand. The entire intent of the video was to translate the music into something dark and elegant, much like the song and entire album. Everything is surreal and dream-like, which is undeniably sinister in its literal moments but oddly comforting in how Legrand wants you to be unafraid, an ever-present theme across the album.

The video was shot at a house built on a secluded hillside near Salinas, Calif. According to The Masses, it remained untouched since the retreat of its last residents. Legrand said it was waiting for them.

Blues Funeral By The Mark Lanegan Band Digs Up 9.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

For someone as talented as Lanegan, it's difficult to come right out and call this his best work. It would be like saying Warhol is better than Basquiat or Gauguin better than Van Gogh. The fullness, texture, completeness, and songwriting are different, much like Weird Chill or maybe Bubblegum.

Although I'm not especially fond of the repetitiveness in Gray Goes Back or peppiness of Quiver Syndrome, Blues Funeral deserves to be listened to in entirety, start to finish. You can find Blues Funeral on iTunes or pick up the CD at Barnes & Noble. The album is also available at Amazon.

Lanegan is already on tour in support of the Blues Funeral. After tonight in Los Angeles, he will embark on a heavy European schedule (first stop Norway) and a couple of stops in South America. He'll be back in the U.S. for the Sasquatch! Festival in May.
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