Review Summary: Mark plunges into deeper waters...
Mark Lanegan has gone through many phases during his 35-year career. His husky voice suits various types of music and I’m glad he was never shy to plunge into deeper waters. Starting with 2012’s Blues Funeral
, electronic elements have slowly been taking over the blues/alternative rock we were already accustomed to. The latest record, Somebody’s Knocking
is one of his most eclectic offerings so far, incorporating a large part of this decade’s output aesthetics, while taking a few steps forward too.
The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Somebody’s Knocking
is how Lanegan and main collaborators Alain Johannes, Rob Marshall and Martin Jenkins managed to arrange all these diverse tunes into one rather cohesive piece. Each new album presents a different experience and the front man actually sounds rejuvenated here. It feels as if there is less personal regret or a desire to end things in the lyrics this time, often turning his attention towards events around him instead. Regarding the sonic aspects, there are several categories where these tunes can be added. ‘Penthouse High’ and ‘She Loved You’ see the band venturing outside their comfort zone. There’s a heavy ‘80s influence all over, in a New Order-meets-Depeche Mode way, complete with bits of The Cure lyricism. ‘Penthouse High’ progresses from sequencers and piano keys to ‘Enjoy the Silence’-like guitar leads, wandering bass lines, as well as airy synth pads. Meanwhile, ‘She Loved You’ includes to a similar sonic mix a round of welcomed, piercing guitars reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Those who have been following the man’s music can observe how this direction gradually took shape over the past couple of records, so it’s nothing unexpected. Then, ‘Dark Disco Jag’, ‘Playing Nero’ or ‘Paper Hat’ further wander the blues on different paths. The Soulsavers’ influence on the former helps create a more somber atmosphere, but with a dance beat. This is one of the many interesting moments on the LP, alongside ‘Playing Nero’, an elegant, new wave-infused ballad with a warm instrumental. Its late night vibe brings to mind the lovely yet heart wrenching contribution to Moby’s 2013 Innocents
album, ‘The Lonely Night’.
Bridging the gap between the electronic and rock sides are tracks such as the post punk-oriented, ‘Letter Never Sent’, on which programmed drumming melds smoothly with twangy guitars and discreet keyboard embellishments. Also, ‘Stitch it Up’ beautifully blends more aggressive sequencers with gritty, garage rock riffs. Mark’s voice switches to great effect from urgent, higher pitched verses to gravelly lows on choruses. Moreover, ‘Disbelief Suspension’ boasts quirky, Americana/boogie rhythms topped by scattered synthesizers and piano leads. It ended up messy on purpose, akin to a soundtrack for a drug-fueled drive around town at night. On the other hand, long-time fans will appreciate the familiar grooves of ‘Radio Silence’ or ‘Night Flight to Kabul’, another highlight and infectious tune on the record. The guitar harmonies are charming, whereas the raspy vocals are classic Lanegan. Subsequently, ‘War Horse’ kicks in with a dry sound, led by deep bass lines, steady drum patterns and jangling guitar chords. It harkens back to earlier works, nevertheless, it keeps a firm foot on the current path as well. Besides the tracks mentioned above, there are more to be discovered, each intertwining multiple ideas. Thankfully, the entire LP is an immediate affair full of pleasant experiments.
To sum up this comprehensive collection of songs, there is something for every Mark Lanegan fan. It is also a good starting point for those unaware of his music. The only mildly bothering element is the production, since it doesn’t fit every tune. On the upside, there’s a rawness to the guitars and especially the vocals (most of the time they sound as if he’s singing in your room in front of you). Even so, during the multi-layered parts, some details get lost in a muddy pool of reverb. Maybe it’s a desired effect or just a flaw stemmed from an attempt to fluidize the wider range of styles portrayed on the LP. Despite this minor inconvenience, Somebody’s Knocking
is a fine experience and should be carefully digested by everyone.