Mark Lanegan Band|
By: James Laczkowski - ModernRock.com
Never has a record quite like Bubblegum sounded so desolate, demonic, and seductive all within the span of the opening three minutes. Opening track “When Your Number Isn’t Up” pretty much sets the tone, and you’ll either roll with it or you won’t. The record is permeated with reflections on death and self-destructive nature which doesn’t mean mainstream commercial airplay, but suggests introspective, meditative listening for those looking for a deeper meaning in their musical architecture. Mark Lanegan’s latest effort (after a successful and critically lauded EP) offers an excursion that is achingly accompanied by drunken apparition and lush abandonment in a way that is as intoxicating as it is scary. The fully-loaded Marshall amp fuzz that once gave credence to the legendary Screaming Trees, which Lanegan once fronted and gave Kurt Cobain a reason to rock out, has been completely divested to the point of minimalist drone and sprinkles of drum machine faucet drip. Mark Lanegan has spiritual demons that he is exorcising on DAT for the more exploratory listener, and the rewards are nothing short of copious.
It’s hardly an accessible effort with loud wails of distorted vocal haze and noise just for the sake of ear-piercing feedback. But the emotional scope of Lanegan’s material is as poignant and indispensable than it ever has been before. It’s the record that should’ve been made after the immediate departure of Screaming Trees, but then again, not all his guest musicians were around to escort him to the studio. Right off the bat, you can sense the incitement of whiskey ghost blues and last-call late-night excursions into the wild, wild east, making it a perfect complement for a midnight stroll through the skyscraper catacombs. The first listen may throw off those expecting fire and fury in the traditional guitar-rock sense. Lanegan is more interesting in spiking Tom Waits-scratch vocals with organ whirr and dispensing doghouse tales of debauchery, all the while baring his soul in ways that is hard to swallow, but demanding ingestion for your consideration.
These first two tracks establish the prototype for the most of the record; a skillfully discreet ballad here, a wounding stoner-rock mini-epic there. It’s also the wide palette of names that attract music devotees to the likes of Lanegan’s superband: Izzy and Duff from Guns n’Roses; Greg Dulli of The Twilight Singers, PJ Harvey (who sounds right at home), Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri from the Queens of The Stone Age. It all erupts violently all over a Pollack-like canvas of disjointed sound and communal disorder; it’s certainly a real band with the list of players making it sound more like a united effort. All the while, it’s Mark’s band, through and through, and he’s never sounded more powerful in delivery, even during times of restraint such as “Wedding Dress,” which sounds like it was recorded in a dungeon with backup angels posing as singers. Mark proclaims on “Methamphetamine Blues,” a brusquely carousing song with a riff that is potent enough to rip the atoms off the walls infused with the straightforward contention of “I’m rolling just to keep on rolling.” Even the one-minute acoustic lullaby, “Bombed” is infused with a sense of optimism and dread, suggesting a one-take recording with the best results conceivable. The only time the guitars are turned up full-blast is during the revved-up assault of “Sideways in Reverse” which does have a bit of a more old-school feel. The ample mantra of “The dark descends through the promised land/Down kingdom come and the acid ban/I'm bad alone, burned inside out/Nothing to kill it” does suggest that the man has dealt with some sour times but it’s clear he finds refuge in the pain and pleasures of hitting the city and having a cocktail.
We should be thanking our lucky stars that Mark continues to shine down from the heavens, giving us a taste of sonic hell. Just about every single moment on this record aches with poetry and sublime distinction that no other artist has been able to capture so far this year. You do wish the songs would breathe a bit more, and last longer than they do, but the end result is satisfying and redemptive in nature. There has never been a better record this year for nocturnal sanctuary whether accompanied by candles in a bedroom or with the headlights beating with the crease of the open road unfolding gracefully. Bubblegum isn’t always easy to chew, but will no doubt go down as a significant tour de force, which you’d expect from one of the most masterful, significant artists of the past twenty years. If you ever wanted to listen to what deliverance might sound like, then best start here and expect to be delicately seduced into life-affirming liberation.
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