Review Summary: Transmitting the tunes of all dead souls
Quite a number of mixed opinions have surfaced the moment Blues Funeral
hit the shelves a couple of years ago. Seeing Mark Lanegan embracing electronic elements within his trademark, alternative rock/folky blues style, raised a few eyebrows. Even so, he wasn't a total stranger to it as his tenure with Soulsavers smoothly introduced us to a rather similar path, albeit partly hidden under a lovely, vintage sound. I must admit I wasn't too convinced either with his previous solo record, but then again, I found myself constantly revisiting it. Without realizing, it wrapped me into its cathartic beauty. All the tunes that I found boring at first, revealed themselves to be the most beautiful and elaborate ones. Now that I learned my lesson, I took my time with his latest effort, Phantom Radio
, only to discover a brand new adventure.
Overall, right from the first listen, you can hear a more uplifting tone in the music, while the synthesizers play an even bigger role. The main reason the lush melodies might trick you is that Lanegan, along with producer and multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, took their cues from popular '80s acts like The Cure or Depeche Mode, thus providing this set of depressive cuts a contrasting, poppy edge. 'Floor Of The Ocean' and 'The Killing Season' bear the most similarities the respective bands, as the laid back, hazy grooves use similar features, such as electronic percussion, high pitched analog synths and that trademark, Robert Smith-esque flanger on the guitar leads. Nevertheless, dark Mark turns them into highlights by offering a nice twist with his smoky voice. Same goes with 'Seventh Day', one of the funkiest experiments on the record. The deep kicks create a groovy foundation for playful keys and wah guitars. He also relies more on a lighter tone here, while occasionally being backed by accompanying vocals much like a church preacher. Experience taught him when to loosen up and surprise the listener (and it always pays off).
Besides these, the collaborations with Moby and Duke Garwood have left a small impact too, because there are many familiar traces left on the new material. Whereas you can hear more of the former on the accompanying No Bells On Sunday
EP, here you have a few minimalist, folky cuts like 'Judgement Day', 'The Wild People' or 'I Am The Wolf'. I have always pictured Lanegan singing such numbers in an old, wild west saloon in the late 1800s (Black Pudding
being an exact soundtrack to this setting) and as usual, he delivers the blues. His ghastly croon is unsettling and successfully aims for the broken hearts. Few singers today can transmit so much feeling and create such a sorrowful atmosphere with only an acoustic guitar and/or organ. Still, the closing number, 'Death Trip To Tulsa' is the one that shook me most. A very cinematic tune, the buzzing guitars and the piano lines play at a steady pace on top of which Mark shares his death bound laments. Like the ending of a western movie, you can already imagine yourself riding an old train through the prairie, while the coda keeps looping.
In the end, as much as I want to, I can't rank Phantom Radio
higher than Blues Funeral
. This is a very nice record, yet feels more settled overall. Nevertheless, it's a matter of choice rather than quality. I miss that dark, brooding vibe and the urgency of most of the songs on the previous LP, still I understand and appreciate Lanegan for not wanting to repeat himself. He moved forward and this can only be a good thing for an artist that has been active for 30 years now. I firmly believe he will continue making excellent music until he retires, because everything his voice touches turns to gold.