With a beat reminiscent of your car barreling down the freeway with a flat tire, “The Gravedigger’s Song” kicks off “Blues Funeral,” Mark Lanegan’s seventh solo album. Like a flat-tired vehicle in motion, however, the album loses its momentum shortly afterwards.
Though it’s been eight years since his previous release “Bubblegum,” former Screaming Trees singer Lanegan hasn’t exactly been on vacation. He’s been busy releasing collaborations with Isobel Campbell (Belle and Sebastian), co-fronting the band The Gutter Twins with Greg Dulli and lending his vocals to UNKLE, Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age albums, to name a few projects.
Returning to his solo project, Lanegan created an album ready to be devoured by fans, despite being sluggish in spots. The loss of momentum on this album, however, isn’t always a bad thing, lending dynamics to an otherwise steady set of songs. After the opener, the album halves its tempo for the somber, drawn-out “Bleeding Muddy Water”—a six-minute track destined to be skipped by listeners seeking more of the first track’s rush. Though the rush doesn’t reoccur, the album does stray into some other interesting directions.
“Riot in My House” is loose and lively, evoking punk band The Gun Club and featuring QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, cameoing with his trademark fuzzy, desert-born guitar tone. Following this, “Ode to Sad Disco” is a somewhat new area for Lanegan. With a four-to-the-floor beat and syncopated bass line, “Ode” sounds like Lanegan has been listening to a lot of New Order. Other tracks like “St. Louis Elegy” and “Phantasmagoria Blues” have Lanegan returning to more familiar territory with their brooding, Ennio Morricone-inspired sound.
And of course, a review of this album shouldn’t go without mentioning producer/multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes’ amazing guitar work. Effects-laden as always, Johannes’ melodies sway between moments of bliss and dissonance when called for throughout the album, most notably on “Gray Goes Black,” “Quiver Syndrome” and “The Gravedigger’s Song.”
“Blues Funeral” will please hardcore fans of the singer’s baritone voice, given free range here to reach its gravelly, whiskey-soaked depths (damn, almost a whole review without those comparisons). For newcomers and casual listeners however, it will sound aimless at best.