In the last decade, Mark Lanegan has been nearly as busy as Rihanna, providing vocals on numerous tracks and albums with an indie-rock-leaning pedigree. Since the break-up of his great Seattle band Screaming Trees in the ‘90s, Lanegan has brought his gravel-coated vocals to collaborations with Isobel Campbell, Greg Dulli, PJ Harvey and Queens of the Stone Age, among many.
His solo career picks up again with “Blues Funeral” (4AD), his first album since 2004 and seventh overall. Lanegan loves the slow burn, and his voice is still built for it: the eternal outcast crooning for an audience of one at the back of the bar. The blues, or something like it, is his stock in trade.
Despite the title, there’s only a smattering of blues on “Blues Funeral.” Working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, he tries to vary the pacing and the musical palette with mixed results. The rhythms stretch from the rock stomp of “Riot in My House” to the electro pulse of “The Gravedigger’s Song.” “Quiver Syndrome” tries on some of the glam-rock flamboyance of Roxy Music. “Deep Black Vanishing Train” goes for a paisley chamber-pop vibe. “Ode to Sad Disco” unearths Lanegan’s previously undetected passion for melancholy electronic music. The track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early ‘80s Spandau Ballet album.
“Blues Funeral” goes down as an experiment that is only partially successful. and the lyrics fall short of even that modest standard. Lines such as, “The moon don’t shine on Saturday’s child/Lying still in Elysian fields,” strain for poetry but end up just sounding silly. Lanegan remains a master of mood, his baritone croon one of rock’s most inviting instruments. But even that voice can’t patch over the weak spots on this inconsistent album.