BEST OF 2012: 18. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

Possessing one of the finest album openers of the year in the shudderingly malevolent ‘The Gravedigger’s Song‘, it would seem that the eight years since Lanegan last flew solo have provided the inspiration for songs of an astonishing calibre. This is a confident, bold and captivating record, and one which is dominated by that beguilingly ragged voice. Musical accompaniment includes turns from Josh Homme and Greg Dulli, with whom Lanegan previously worked as part of The Twilight Singers. ‘Gray Goes Black‘ picks up the electro touches from the opener and belies a penchant for Krautrock which puts in another appearance on the splendidly titled ‘Ode To Sad Disco‘. Having worked up some of these songs using keyboards and a drum machine rather than the guitar, ‘Blues Funeral’ possesses the fullest and most varied sound of his career to date.

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When the guitars are foregrounded, Lanegan can still strut like the best: ‘Riot In My House‘ offers a particularly fine burst of raw energy. ‘Harborview Hospital’ is a curious collection of synth swirls and plodding drum loops, whilst tucked sombrely amongst the album’s louder moments is the beautifully melancholic ‘Phantasmagoria Blues‘. ‘Leviathan’, a squally waltz, takes an unexpected turn towards the end when the repeated lyric “every day a prayer for what I never knew, this is one I said for you,” suddenly gains ‘Pet Sounds’ style harmonies, conjuring a sense of what Brian Wilson‘s more troubling moments may have sounded like in his head. In a good way, of course. There’s also a touch of a grizzled, hungover Richard Hawley in several of the vocal performances and those fond of the most recent release by Sheffield’s will find plenty to enjoy here.

‘Blues Funeral‘ is one of those albums where you end up playing it endlessly for several months before letting it retreat into the racks for a while, so as not to tire it out. But when you return to it, as you surely must, it seems as fresh and ferocious as it ever did. Although it sounds imperious on a pair of decent speakers, it’s also a mighty fine headphones record, with just the right blend of menacing bass and sickening claustrophobia. In a good way, of course.

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