Blues Funeral was released at the beginning of February, but it takes more than a few listens to truly appreciate a new direction for Mark Lanegan. The grungy and raspy singer who has released multiple solo albums and has been a contributor to Queens of the Stone Age for years, has put together something entirely different here. An album with a distinct sound of synth and electronic landscapes, woven into the blues guitar and bass of his band and the ever familiar voice of Lanegan. Is the mix a success after you’ve been able to sit with the experience for awhile?
Blues Funeral opens with the first released single “The Gravediggers Song”. The track immediately brings you to the Queens of the Stone Age days with a sound that would fit in more with Queens’ latest album, Era Vulgaris, than the albums Mark was actually featured on for many years. The echoing guitar solos and building rhythms make “The Gravediggers Song” the definitive single in the album. Immediately after the opening song, you start to get a better sense of what this 12 track journey will be like.
“Bleeding Muddy Water” is the slow and brooding blues rocker that Lanegan has always embraced. A deathly gospel echo surrounds his voice during the chorus as Lanegan begs convincingly:
Oh baby don’t it feel so bad
Drowning in the rain
Now the rain done come
“Grey Goes Black” is another burning exodus with an increase tempo. The music surrounding Lanegan’s voice comes to life here, as the guitars are allowed to travel more freely for periods of brief expression. While the music can feel anxious and tense at times, the vocals are always in control and Lanegan is always at ease. There’s a particular beauty in this that is rarely found. It’s easy for the vocals to get lost in the sounds of complex chords and crashing cymbals, but Mark is able to keep his vocals always a pitch above the music. No matter where the music goes, you know who is control here. It’s Lanegan, and he drives the tempo as much as anyone or anything in the band.
In “St.Louis Elegy” we get another burning blues track. A low electronic reverb can be heard at the beginning of the track, and it echos throughout the song. There is a distinct electronic and drumbeat sound to the album that is present on almost every track and makes itself clear here. This electronic base is an important element to the album as its the foundation to the muddy blues that Lanegan portrays and expels from his vocals. This is 80s synth rock, mixed with the modern touches of chords and guitar that were missing over 30 years ago.
“Riot In My House” changes all of this though, and kicks off a three track portion of the album that will stick with you as possibly the most memorable 15 minutes of the experience. Starting with the fast paced “Riot In My House”, the guitar is finally allowed to explore and let loose on the track. There’s even a few solos, screeching in harmony as Lanegan picks up the pace. Picture this- stuck in a small home with Mark as a fire spreads throughout the rooms. The panic is there in the music, but once again Lanegan is cool as ever. The tempo calms with “Ode To Sad Disco”, and there’s a moment here where you may feel like you’ve heard this sound before. Coldplay? In some ways, yes. There’s a texture here and almost etheral feel to the music that will remind you of the type of tracks Coldplay loves to shoot for. The track has that musical desire to be beautiful and it succeeds. This could easily be a Chris Martin track, but instead we get the vocals of Lanegan over a beautiful landscape of simple guitar and increasingly smooth synth.
The track bleeds directly into “Phantasmagoria Blues” effortlessly. The music is beautifully woven together, with dark lyrics and the sound of Lanegan making the experience feel real. That’s the difference that Lanegan brings to a track that could easily be a Coldplay song. With Lanegan, you believe in the blues and the lyrics, you believe in the story being told.
“Quiver Syndrome” picks it up again, and takes you out of the trance like journey you were just on. The pick-me up song has a southern rock feel to it, with Lanegan voice pushing forward and asserting more effort than any other place on the album. The next few tracks go back into the classic Lanegan style but stay true to the feel of the album. “Harborview Hospital” is another track that you swear could be backed by one of the world’s most popular rock bands. Once again though, Mark reminds you this is absolutely all him on the track:
The devil’s ascended
Upon some crystal wings
In the citadel lightning
Splits a cloud of butterflies and fiends
And with a vacant stare I’ll leave a flower there
The album closes with “Tiny Grain of Truth” and it feels like the perfect synopsis of the album. Always building in sound yet content in its pace most of the time, with that obvious electronic touch and guitar that is allowed to breathe ever so carefully at just the right time. Blues Funeral takes Lanegan’s music to a new level, incorporating synthesizers and electronic touches more than any of his other albums, which makes everything here feel fresh and relevant. The voice is still there though, always keeping the listener grounded to the fact that this is above-all-else still a Mark Lanegan album. Which is a good thing, because fans of Lanegan expect that honest blues story, but this time he has layered that recognizable voice over a beautiful tapestry of sound and exploration. 80s synth and Coldplay in a Mark Lanegan review? Ya, I know. But its honest, and there’s no other way to approach a Lanegan album. Of course there are the moments of guitar freedom that break the mold and bring you back to the reality that this is still blues rock with a twist, but for moments you’ll get lost in the music in this very unique Lanegan experience.
~ A new foundation for a voice that seems to never change. Blues Funeral is an interesting piece in the catalog that proves even a grungy blues singer with an edge for rock n’ roll can create something dynamically beautiful and modern.