Now aged 50, American alt-rock singer songwriter Mark Lanegan is an extremely prolific recording artist and attempting to frame his musical output in terms of style relating to a particular period in his discography would inevitably lead to over simplification. All his various musical influences seem however to coalesce in his two most recent solo recordings, namely Blues Funeral (2012) and Phantom Radio released in October 2014 on Heavenly Recordings. The latter record was accompanied by the “No Bells on Sunday” EP released two months previously.
As the Screaming Trees frontman, Mark Lanegan’s musical roots hark back of course to the grunge and alt-rock sound of the early 1990s which spread further via his collaborations with Kurt Cobain, Queens of the Stone Age or the formation of the Gutter Twins with Greg Dulli. A song like “Riot in my House” on Blues Funeral is firmly connected to that particular phase.
The singer’s DNA also includes strong elements of folk, roots and blues ever since his solo début The Winding Sheet (1990) followed up by Whiskey for the Holy Ghost (1994). His collaborative trilogy of albums with former Belle & Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell further underlines that specific connection. Several roots and folk-infused ballads resurface on his last two solo albums – “Bleeding Muddy Water” on Blues Funeral or the superbly stripped down “I am the Wolf” on Phantom Radio for instance. The latter song was co-written with English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood with whom Mark Lanegan collaborated on the Black Pudding LP (Heavenly Recordings – 2013).
In terms of sound, Blues Funeral also seemed to signal a new direction with the use of electronics and synthesisers. Never shying away from new experiments, Mark Lanegan started using a drum machine, or more precisely the FunkBox Drum Machine iPhone App which then became an integral part of his songwriting process. This new approach lends a definite early-1980s post-punk or synthpop sound straight from a Joy Division, New Order or Kraftwerk recording, influences that the singer has clearly acknowledged recently. As well as that, Mark Lanegan collaborated with Moby on The Lonely Night for record store day 2013. Finally, Heavenly Recordings have announced the release of A Thousand Miles of Midnight in February 2015, a new LP featuring remixes of all the tracks on Phantom Radio and No Bells On Sunday EP.
Besides style – ghostly blues ballads replete with biblical imagery, spirited rock anthems or electro-pop-inflected songs – a constant characteristic of Mark Lanegan’s music remains his distinct smoky rasp and above all, a sense of “mystery” as he hinted himself in a recent interview:
For me, the music that I’ve always loved the most is the music that nobody told me what it meant, and in fact, some of the music I’ve loved the most had the most sense of mystery – I had to draw my own conclusions and see my own movie […] When I make music, I’m trying in my own way to make songs that give me that same feeling and that’s all.