Review Summary: Making a Mark on the classics
Covers albums can at times be little more than a vanity project or contractual obligation. On other occasions it can be a heartfelt attempt to either ‘give back’ to an artist’s followers or to simply try and clue them in as to what makes any artist tick. Typically, Lanegan’s eighth solo LP, Imitations
, falls somewhere in the middle.
Perhaps we can allow Lanegan a bit of breathing room; a little space to flex his musical muscles and vocal chords. After all, even the most cursory of glances at the man’s CV is proof that Lanegan is no slouch. He refuses to rest even after 2012’s fantastic Blues Funeral
. Now here’s the rub: it’s difficult to compare that record with Imitations
and not possess a certain sense of disappointment. Where Blues Funeral
was stocked with solid and at times heavy sounds, Imitations
, with its abundance of string arrangements and meandering pace, leaves Lanegan looking a little off the mark.
It's not hard to imagine Lanegan here as the down-on-his-luck cabaret singer (one may argue that's the gimmick he's been trading on all along), crooning to an empty bar, those who are in attendance disinterested and vacant. Therein lies the problem with this record; for all of the talent Lanegan gives the nod to (Nick Cave, Kurt Weill, the Sinatras among others) it always struggles to achieve a real peak.
Nick Cave's "Brompton Oratory" is stripped of any of the grandiose story-telling and intonation usually proffered by Cave, replaced by the usual Lanegan smokehouse drawl. Lanegan's voice is noted by many as one of the most memorable, but here it merely contrives to draw the life out of the song. His version of Andy Williams' "Solitaire" suffers a similar fate and is immediately forgettable.
The brightest light on Imitations
is his recital of "You Only Live Twice", where Lanegan's attributes as a vocalist and performer bring new life to the song. Replacing the standard pomp and grandiosity you would expect from your average Bond theme is that classic world-weary bitterness, his delivery allowing you time to trace your mind over the lyrics which show a deeper, more sentimental side in this fashion. "Mack The Knife" receives similar treatment, aided and abetted by vocals that call to mind an almost sociopathic leer. The album heads toward the finish on the back of two excellent tracks. John Cale's "I'm Not The Loving Kind" benefits from a richness of sound while "Élégie Funébre" benefits immensely from the unwritten rule of "it's French, therefore romantic".
teach us anything? Not exactly, but it gives us a window into the already oft-bared soul of Mark Lanegan. Whether it's a genuine artistic statement or simply a play for time, or a combination of the two, Lanegan still keeps people talking and guessing. Ironically, it's Lanegan who manages to come out of this as inimitable as ever.