Album: Mark Lanegan Band

Bubblegum, BEGGARS BANQUET
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The Independent Culture

This sixth solo album from the former Screaming Trees frontman is credited to the Mark Lanegan Band - a misnomer probably born of Lanegan's wishful thinking, given the star-studded line-up of heavy friends helping him realise these 15 songs. Chief among them is his Queens of the Stone Age bandmate Joshua Homme, whose sense of structure brings a tautness to tracks such as "One Hundred Days", "Methamphetamine Blues", "Wedding Dress" and particularly "Come to Me", a slow, elegant psychedelic blues on which he furnishes the rhythm and lead guitars, bass and drums anchoring Lanegan and Polly Harvey's duet.

Elsewhere, Homme's on/off QOTSA bandmate Nick Oliveira rubs shoulders with former Guns N' Roses types Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan on "Strange Religion", a lethargic trudge of organ and guitar illuminated by subtle synthesiser and tape effects from Aldo Struyf, while Elevan's Alain Johannes provides the entire backing tracks for a further four cuts, including the pounding Krautrock groove of the cold-turkey anthem "Driving Death Valley Blues" and the similarly drug-soaked maelstrom of vibrato guitar and swirling synth, "Can't Come Down".

This latter pair are indicative of the album's dominant themes, which draw on Lanegan's history of substance abuse with a fatalism that's closer to doomed acquiescence than bravado. It's probably best captured on the album's shortest piece, "Bombed", which finds him sinking into a dangerous apathy: "See the smoke from a revolver/ Will I get hit?/ I hardly care/ When I'm bombed I stretch like bubble-gum/ And look too long straight at the morning sun". The sense of being almost close enough to death to touch it seeps out from several other tracks here: "Dark descends through the promised land," in "Hit the City", another Polly Harvey duet, while the opening song, "When Your Number Isn't Up", describes a grim motel-room near-death scene: "Did they call for the night porter/ Smell the blood running warm?/ Well, I've been waiting at this frozen border/ So close you could hit it with a stone."

As with 2002's excellent Field Songs, Lanagan's still clearly mesmerised by the "psychotropic light" of love and addiction, strapped to a car hurtling 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street, but regarding his situation with more fascination than fear, and able to offer an oddly disinterested commentary from the edge of his abyss. As he notes over the brittle clank of "Methamphetamine Blues", he keeps his "eyes wide open and my shotgun loaded/ I'm rollin' just to keep on rollin'."

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