Mark Lanegan has certainly been busy lately. Last October saw the release of ‘Somebody’s Knocking’. His memoir, ‘Sing Backwards and Weep’, was released at the end of April (reigniting an old feud with Liam Gallagher in the process), and this week sees the release of his twelfth studio solo album, ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’.
The timing of the album, released close to the publication of his memoir, is no coincidence. Lanegan has written the songs on ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’ to loosely match with some of the chapters in his book, each song part of his life story.
The result is a much darker offering to 2019’s ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ and this comes as no surprise as his book details a troubled journey involving drugs and despair before being able to somehow claw himself away from the trail of destruction.
The record itself is as turbulent as Lanegan’s past, both lyrically and musically as it swings from one mood to the next, opening with a cacophonous electronic noise on the album’s opener, ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Say’. Like an open-penned Shakespearean prologue, ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Say’ is the first act, setting the scene of a tale that will be ‘swinging from death to revival’.
‘Apples From A Tree’, which follows the opener is a stark contrast musically, with gentle acoustic guitar and soulful vocals. It’s an ode to ‘a mother I never knew / a lover I never had’, while ponderously deliberating how he ‘came up on the streets / always doing bad / what would I leave behind?’
Lanegan duets with his wife Shelley Brien on ‘This Game Of Love’, and it’s a tender ballad in the same vein as his work with Isobel Campbell. It’s optimistic, hopeful and is a ray of light on what’s a predominantly dark album.
That’s not to say that the album is depressing though as there are elements of humour of a sort. When describing himself, ‘I stagger now a wounded Atlas / nothing else but blood and bone,’ on ‘Churchbells, Ghosts’, you can’t help but get the feeling he’s being rather tongue in cheek when describing life on the road.
The lyrics throughout narrate tales and moments from Lanegan’s life and this makes the tracks more accessible than some of his previous work. We’re able to picture the scenes from his memories while playing out the many situations in our own head. ‘I walked beneath the viaduct / laughing to myself at some stupid old joke’, he sings on ‘Internal Hourglass Discussion’. This is followed up shortly after with ‘I stand on 2nd Ave trying to bum a smoke / a cop says move along let’s not get locked up.’ They’re personal stories, sung with a gravelly gentleness which adds to the atmosphere.
Lanegan delivers many of his lines like a seasoned beat poet and you can’t help but be drawn in by this. We’re with him when he’s getting high in his hotel room in Sweden on ‘Stockholm City Blues’. ‘Descending every ladder to the final rung / I pay for this pain I’m running through my blood / you couldn’t ever tell me when enough’s enough.’ We’re then ‘watching the smoke on the factory floor’, on ‘Daylight In The Nocturnal House’, while he’s ‘covered in rainwater’, part of a dirty, industrial scene somewhere in early 90s Seattle.
Despite the themes of drug abuse, loneliness and feeling trapped and lost, there is light at the end of the tunnel on the final track, ‘Eden Lost and Found’. ‘Sunlight’s a coming / daylight’s calling me’, he croons. This may be an album of ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’ but he’s also acknowledging that the darkness in his life may be, to some extent, behind him.
Lanegan has opened up the door to his past and in sharing it, has produced a fine storyteller’s album full of atmosphere, despair, but perhaps most importantly, acceptance and hope.
‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’ is out Friday 8th May and is available from Heavenly Recordings.