“Step right up, dear ladies and feared gentlemen, boys and girls! It’s time for Uncle Mark’s bedtime lullabies…”
Boy, us reviewers DO have it easier than say, artists… all we gotta do is come up with some gimmicky opening line and then take it from there, don’t we? Oh wait, isn’t that EXACTLY how artists work? Imagine pitching your all too great “idea for a movie” to Mr. Hollywood producer behind original Prada sunshades (either it’s you or him behind those damned ridiculous solid gold sunshades, I can’t be bothered to decide this morning): “You see, sir, there’s aliens, and then there’s a girl, and some gay cowboys running around with guns… oh and this awkwardly badass evil mastermind, with a heavy British accent (but of course), too much money to be liked…” and there you stop yourself short before this twerkhole realizes you’ve just dissed his one true god almost by accident.
Thing is, you need a great opening line, something to lure this noble gentlemen’s coked up hairstylist features away from his iPhone and his chai latte. One hell of a great opening line is what it takes to sell… and nobody in mainstream seems to have the kind of idea that would shatter the Earth. So what do THEY do to sell?
Ok: let’s try again, shall we? “You see, sir, there’s aliens, and then there’s Kate Winslet as herself, and then there’s like Frodo, and…” LOTS EASIER. You see what I did there? The guy, our guy, just lifted an eyebrow. We good. You see: when you have a modern day master diva the stature of Mark Lanegan bringing all-star songs back from the dead, the first thing you say is: oh, please God, let it NOT be swing versions! (See: the rise and fall of Scott Weiland and the Shirley Temple Pirates). And, by Dis, it wasn’t swing… oh no, this was immediate liquor vocals sliding like the hands of an artisan on the wood of acoustic guitars and skillfully muted drums… Here were the chords that broke a billion hearts a dozen times.
I think there’s no metaphor I haven’t heard in trying to describe Lanegan’s voice, so I’m gonna go with rust. This rusty voice, forever old but never aging, takes us on a journey through the devilish beauty of ancient lore… through this all too carefully hand-picked set of songs, every single one of them with a devastating chord progression and melody. Even when covering a song by a relatively new artist (as is ‘Flatlands’, by Chelsea Wolfe), Lanegan manages to make it sound like a timeless gem by stripping the song bare. The one exception for this being “I’m not the loving kind” by John Cale, which is more of a perfect rendition of the original, plus the recording technology of the day and the sexier, meatier vocals, of course.
Lanegan is respectful to the melodies he presents, he seems confident enough in his skill to bring something valuable to the table by just singing himself so he doesn’t even try too hard to change the tunes, only adjusting where it’s a natural thing to do: a bent corner here and there. He even dares taking a swing at “Brompton Oratory” by Nick Cave, a move I would’ve easily reproached to anyone but him, but dear Lord, the brass arrangement’s sweet on that one! I find this album flawless except for all the whiskey spit I had to wipe off my face after Mark sings “Elegie Funebre” a bit too close to the microphone to a creepy proximity effect, not unlike that of a drunk American talking to a girl at a pub. :D
It’s been a very pleasant and comfortable journey. But, do we need all this beauty right now? Heck, one of these songs has even been stolen before by Robbie Williams, from Ork. Anyways, when you have the M-dawg on the plate, as we were saying, giving new life to old standards, you don’t even need no fucking cover artwork! All we need’s a frame. So we can frame fame frame fame frame fame… sorry, those prescription drugs that I’m totally not taking are too far up my brains. FIRE! FIRE! I have enjoyed this little number, though I know it won’t impress anyone anywhere.
So, let’s recapture: if you are visiting your grandparents uptown, and you want to hear something you enjoy as much as they, you should definitely bring this along, just make sure you have something noisier for the drive home, unless you don’t mind waking up in the middle of a corn field.
Words: Air Nest Vera