Sounding for all the world like Nick Cave’s degenerate younger brother, singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan’s “Funeral Blues” roars out of the gates with the sinister electro-groove stomp of “The Gravedigger’s Song”, on which Lanegan growls an ominous opening couplet: “With piranha teeth / I have dreamed of you.” The ensuing track, “Bleeding Muddy Water,” is a six-minute slow-burn-turned-incantation, wherein Lanegan seems to call on legendary bluesman Waters to rise from the dead and provide relief from every manner of catastrophe.
As one may have gleaned from the title and other sundry cues, Lanegan’s latest is short on laughs. Lyrical preoccupations run the thematic gamut from A to B: These are songs of death, despair and unfulfilled longing rendered on a slate-gray emotional canvas. At times, “Funeral Blues” feels like the exact inverse of a motivational speech.
What he lacks as a life coach, Lanegan makes up for as a singer. Like Tom Waits, he is a distinctly gritty and resonant vocalist, with a flair for wringing extra emotion out of his material with agile phrasing. Lanegan’s voice is also surprisingly versatile, equally affecting on the Cure-like doom-jangle of “Grey Goes Black” and the Leonard Cohen-style acoustic lament “Deep Black Vanishing Train.”
Musically, Lanegan is a songwriter of considerable craft and agility. The album nimbly weaves crunching guitar workouts, two-chord drones and Eno-like synth experiments into a coherent mosaic. In this regard, “Funeral Blues” is an unqualified success, showcasing an established artist looking for and discovering dynamic ways to reinvent his sound. But even as the musical textures shift, the aura remains one of nearly oppressive darkness.
“Grey Goes Black,” “The Gravedigger’s Song”