Mark Lanegan Band
Mark Lanegan has been many things in his long and varied career. He first found fame as the frontman for perhaps the greatest of the Seattle bands that never made it, the Screaming Trees. He has had a long solo career in the vein of Leonard Cohen, though perhaps even more whiskey sodden. He has collaborated with Isobel Campbell on three albums, garnering a Mercury Prize nomination. He had a run in Queens of the Stone Age. He also formed The Gutter Twins with good friend, Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs. He has released two albums in collaboration with British blues minimalist Duke Garwood. He’s also appeared on the albums of everyone from The Breeders to the Eagles of Death Metal to Tinariwen. Across this entire ouevre, his output has been consistent, regardless of music form, you can always recognize his low growl. I was listening to some early Screaming Trees a few weeks ago, and even as a young man, in his early 20s, there was always a rasp in his voice that has just become deeper, more weather-beaten as he’s aged. Today, his voice is like old leather, grizzled and comforting all at once.
Somebody’s Knocking, though, marks a shift for our Dark Knight. This album is poppy and almost bubbly. No, seriously. Lanegan’s musical influences have always been wildly diverse, including the likes of Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, and New Order. And on Somebody’s Knocking, he lets fly with the homages to those three giants of the 1980s. This is the most straight-forward, hard-rocking album he’s made since the Trees split in 1996. It is also an album of contrasts.
Centred around a cheesy 80s drum machine (which also is the centrepoint of his work with Garwood), Lanegan constructs songs outward around chugging beats and hard-charging guitars. I saw something about this being an EDM album, to which I say, dream on. But what this is is excellent.
Starting with the pounding drums of and guitar of ‘Disbelief Suspension,’ Lanegan growls that he’s ‘going downtown in the wrong direction/I’m a five-alarm fire, not a fire engine.’ It’s hard to disagree with him. There is something intimidating in Lanegan’s voice on this album, as it is on all of his best work. And whilst I find his voice comforting and familiar, there is a hint of danger in his best work.
The album is dominated by Peter Hook-esque basslines and beats that would seem to fit onto most New Order albums. Keyboards pop out of everywhere, recalling Depeche Mode. And the Sisters of Mercy can be heard in the post-punk guitar riffs and Lanegan’s voice itself, which is the more sinister analog to the Sisters’ Andrew Eldritch.
The stand out first single, ‘Stitch It Up’ comes complete with a funny video as Canadian comic Donal Logue poses as an Uber driver from Boston in Los Angeles. I gotta say, Logue hits that very difficult Boston accent pretty well. Lanegan is his passenger in various guises as he lip synchs the song. The song itself, one of the shortest on this album, which clocks in at 57 minutes, is maybe his most straight-forward song in approximately forever.
‘Flight Night to Kabul’ wears its influences all over, with a driving beat and synth bass and Lanegan wondering whether there’s gold in Kabul. And it comes with a video that makes it feel like you’ve just dropped acid. Fun.
I am a big fan of the next track, ‘Dark Disco Jag,’ which begins with an ominous synth bass line and jagged riffs from a post-punk guitar and then the cheesy 80s drum kicks in. And then Lanegan saunters up to the mic and growls out his lyrics. I can’t say I ever figured that a New Order-esque track would be the perfect foil for his growl.
‘War Horse’ is also a highlight, as Lanegan growls that ‘I’m a war horse, baby/But you don’t want a war with me.’ There’s something about Lanegan growling about what he is, ominously, whether he’s a five-alarm fire or a war horse. It’s hard not to believe him.
Taken altogether, Somebody’s Knocking is a wicked good album, and a most unexpected one from Lanegan. Last week, I reviewed Kim Gordon’s début solo album, and noted the brilliance of her restless eye and mind when it comes to her art; the same could be said about Lanegan.