There is no bad time to discover the phenomenal voice that is Mark Lanegan, and this latest album in a mighty output would be a fine place to start.
Lanegan’s is one of the great American rock voices — deep and grainy, full of heart and depth, honey and edge. Grumblers would prefer their Dark Mark with sparse guitar arrangements but they’ve recently been given a sublime double retrospective — Has God Seen My Shadow? — covering more than 20 years of such work so it’s good to see him and the band trying some new sounds here.
The sounds are not new to the world — imagine he’s found an old 505 in the attic and tipped around with it for the new songs. That attic is probably the same place he keeps his tattered copy of the Old Testament that resonates in his walk-on-the-wild-side lyrics.
Phantom Radio opens with a muscular rocker where Lanegan hitches his declamatory lyrics to a wagon that picks up orchestral strength as it travels. Next it’s quiet and insistent as our preacher takes little accompaniment to tell us he was a strung out angel who witnessed cities drowning and armies dying.
Musically, it is the quivering keyboard, lovely dated electronica and old school beats that add to the guitars to give the album its texture. Some tracks sound so redolent of a particular cult ’80s you almost expect Bunnyman-in-chief Ian McCulloch to harmonise, especially with rhymes like “core of emotion and floor of the ocean”.
But whether it’s on the terrific ‘Dry Iced’ or the thumping funkiness of ‘Death Trip to Tulsa’, it sounds like Lanegan is just picking up the sounds that suit the mood of the song rather than getting on to a particular retro-kick. Lanegan never sounds modern but is usually timeless.
The fine EP No Bells on Sunday is thrown in for good measure on the deluxe edition. File beside his Blues Funeral album and play forever.
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