Review Summary: Predictably amazing.
Obviously this is subjective rather than set in stone, but I for one can't recall a single album that Mark Lanegan has been associated with being anything less than great. He may still be tagged as a grunge legend by some, but he's become so much more than that, with 27 years of prolific creativity behind him, which have included collaborations with artists as diverse as Isobel Campbell and Greg Dulli. For many, though, the one-time Screaming Trees frontman is most in his element when going it alone - an assertion supported by this seventh LP, which comes as yet another fine addition to his consistently excellent solo discography.
Those familiar with any corner of Lanegan's back catalogue will know the drill by now, but even that complete reliability can't prevent Blues Funeral
from being a thoroughly refreshing release. As you'd expect, this is a record crammed with the singer's dense and perpetually dark take on the blues, with his rich, velvety voice the unopposed centre of attention throughout each of it's twelve tracks. Far from merely rehashing his past work, though, these songs also build further on that established template, with infused synths succeeding not only in adding depth to his instrumental backing but also in making his music sound distinctly modern. Their use is mostly subtle, but there are odd tracks such as 'Ode To Sad Disco' - a wonderfully disorientating if slightly overlong waltz - where they claim the lead, and thus the responsibility of purveying the gloom.
With such a luscious sound in evidence throughout most of the album, it's ironic that the best track here is also the most minimalistic. 'St Louis' Elergy' uses little more than a programmed beat and reverb drones, with Lanegan's beastly vocal almost single-handedly lifting it to titanic heights. It's a song that's every bit as sexy as it is sinister, but there are plenty of other numbers here which can also boast that seductive combination. Fabulous opener 'The Gravedigger's Song,' for instance, sets his voice against a backdrop of pummeling bass yet sacrifices none of it's harrowing intimacy, while latter cut 'Quiver Syndrome's' relatively simple structure and rhythmic hooks make it arguably the most instantly satisfying moment here.
There are plenty of other highlights, ranging from the calming croon of 'Bleeding Muddy Water' to the melodic sensibilities of 'Harborview Hospital,' and although there's a noticeable dip in the last few tracks that does little to undermine the record as a whole. Usually when artists near their third decade of activity they're accused of threatening their legacy, but Blues Funeral
finds Mark Lanegan continuing to go from strength to strength, and in doing so making some of the finest music of his entire career. He may be well down the road age-wise, but against all the odds this is the sound of an artist who remains at or around the peak of his powers.