, August 26th, 2009 06:19
Mark Lanegan is a man who has this recession thing licked. Four years on since his last solo release – that'll be the splendid stoner motorik of Bubblegum – and the singer with a gravel pit for a larynx is back with another of his collaborations. Why splash out for the studio time when you can get someone else to do it for you, right?
Certainly, the time elapsed since 2005 has seen him team up with – deep breath – Afghan Whig Greg Dulli for The Gutter Twins, erstwhile Belle & Sebastian chanteuse Isobel Campbell for two gorgeously delicious and understated moments of rare beauty, The Twilight Singers, Melissa Auf Der Maur and, of course, the majestically precise krautrock'n'roll of Queens of the Stone Age. And with such a pedigree behind him, why bother leading the train when the train can take him with it?
Why indeed? Adding to that illustrious list comes another meeting of minds and talent with this, the third outing from Brit production duo Rich Machin and Ian Glover, aka Soulsavers. The pair have headed far into the mythical West of baking sun, tumbleweed, six shooters and the spat out mess from chewing tobacco and the resulting album is to Lee Hazelwood what Death In Vegas were to The Velvet Underground. Factor in further guest appearances from the likes of Jason Pierce, Gibby Haynes, Mike Patton and Richard Hawley and the scene is set for an aural rendition of Sergio Leone's most twisted vision.
Indeed, the early landing of the gnarly rock of 'Death Bells' – all twisted guitars with strangled necks and Lanegan's ominous and subterranean croak – appears as a jolt after the ghostly melancholia of 'The Seventh Proof'. This is music that squints in the sun as it ponders the merits of extreme violence over a toke and a shot of mescal.
Yet lurking beneath the testosterone and heartache are moments of genuine poignancy, namely the two covers that sit back to back. Lanegan's take on Will Oldham's 'You'll Miss Me When I Burn' is almost unbearably sad, his voice conveying the experience of a man who not only knows the block but also has caused indentations in the pavement. But the real moment of triumph is the superb re-imagining of former Byrd Gene Clark's 'Some Misunderstanding'. Replacing the cosmic American flavourings of the original with a more earth-bound and gritty sensibility, only the hardest of hearts can remain unmoved when Lanegan intones, “We all need a fix at a time like this/But doesn't it feel good to stay alive”.
The appearance of Red Ghost vocalist Rosa Agostino for the remaining quarter of the album offers some respite in the face of such gruff manliness, but the overall feeling that lingers is of life being chewed over by people who can recognise the best and worst of times from just a sideways glance. They know the score – in more ways than one – and the deal is going down right here, right now.