Mark Lanegan: The voice of experience

By Scott Kara

QUIET: He may not show a lot of emotion but Mark Lanegan's music is full of it.
QUIET: He may not show a lot of emotion but Mark Lanegan's music is full of it.

Who: Mark Lanegan
Where and when: The Powerstation, Wednesday, April 18
Latest album: Blues Funeral, out now


Mark Lanegan is not in a particularly chatty mood. The Seattle singer, whose grizzled looks match his beautifully wrecked baritone voice, mumbles his way through our conversation.

He can't even be jollied by praise for his latest solo album, Blues Funeral, which was released earlier this year.

"Thank you. Thank you," he murmurs.

It's not that he's being rude, because glimpses of his wry wit come through. "Maybe if I had a bass drum on my back and cymbals between my knees, I could," he chuckles about trying to play the songs off Blues Funeral as a one-man band. And there are flashes of openness, like his observation about lyrics like "when death's metal broom, comes sweeping through the evening" from the song Riot in My House.

"It's a song about my life, you know," he offers.

Maybe his remoteness is because he's distracted by his two boisterous dogs who can be heard in the background. Then again, maybe that's just Lanegan, who returns to New Zealand to play the Powerstation on Wednesday. He was last here in 2010 performing with long-time guitarist, Dave Rosser, as "a bit of fun". But this time he's bringing a full band.

You'd think Lanegan would have a little more enthusiasm considering Blues Funeral is one of his best collections of songs to date. And that's saying something given his vast canon of work, which started in the mid-80s with grunge originals Screaming Trees, and continued on with seven solo albums, and numerous collaborations with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age and the Gutter Twins (with Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli) through to rock gospel outift Soulsavers and his stunningly spare albums with former Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell.

It's his first solo album in eight years, following a constant stream of collaborative album, and "it felt good to do it".

"But I didn't really miss it because I was really enjoying working with other people. But once I started making it I realised I had all these songs."

Not that it's a purely solo effort, with Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme letting rip on Riot in My House ("that's pretty much his signature sound") and the album is produced by long-time friend and Queens' guitarist Alain Johannes. "He's the best. And, God willing, we will make several more together."

This time the album has a more lively sonic texture and electronic hum to it rather than the acoustic approach of his previous solo albums.

"Usually I write songs with my guitar but with this record I started a few of them on keyboard, and with the drum machine, and synthesiser. And I think that indicated the direction that part of the record was going to go."

Songs such as opener and lead single The Gravedigger's Song churn and groove along ominously, the haunting Phantasmagoria Blues is mesmerising (and includes the looming line, "thought I'd rule like Charlemagne, but I've become corrupt"), and then there's the mournful majesty of St Louis Elegy ("these tears are liquor and I've drunk myself sick").

But it's not all sombre and slow with Quiver Syndrome starting off like a Foo Fighters' anthem and brimming with soulful woo-hoos, and Ode to Sad Disco a spooky six-minute-long dancefloor swoon. The thing that's perhaps most noticeable about Blues Funeral is its nod to many of Lanegan's diverse musical influences. It's all in there, from the caustic nastiness of Scratch Acid (check out 1991 compilation The Greatest Gift) and Roxy Music's Country Life, through to the Bee Gees (before they went disco) and Los Angeles punks the Flesh Eaters, whose 1981 album, A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die, he rates as possibly his favourite album of all time.

Though, in typical Lanegan style, on this particular day he has no idea why.

"It's just an album I definitely love," he says. Still, there is no doubt this guy knows his music, so it might just be worth checking out.

- NZ Herald

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