Mark Lanegan has one of the most distinct, rugged and unique baritone voices in rock.
He had the gravelly maturity of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Johnny Cash in his youth as a singer in Screaming Trees – one of the most under-celebrated bands to emerge from the grunge scene of Washington state.
Now in his late-40s, Lanegan’s voice remains as middle-aged as it sounded in his 20s, making him appear ageless and just as vital now as when he began his career.
‘Imitations’ is his first-ever covers album, made up of songs he listened in the ‘60s and ‘70s with his parents. There’s a mix of country music and, as he states, “Music with string arrangements and men singing songs that sounded sad, whether they were or not”. Relatively recent cuts from Chelsea Wolfe, The Twilight Singers and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds are also included.
There’s long been a sadness to Lanegan’s work – that’s clear listening to his collaborations with Queens Of The Stone Age, grunge supergroup Mad Season, and his last two solo LPs: ‘Bubblegum’ (2004) and ‘Blues Funeral’ (2012, Clash review).
But the aforementioned sets featured a distinctly distorted edge, while ‘Imitations’ is more fraught, shot through with string sections that have these sad songs sounding all the more exaggerated. It’s probably closest in spirit to 1994’s ‘Whiskey For The Holy Ghost’, of any previously released Lanegan collection.
‘You Only Live Twice’, originally performed by Nancy Sinatra and penned by Leslie Bricusse and John Barry for the Bond flick of the same name, features the characteristic acoustic guitar tone that made ‘Whiskey…’ such a great set. Another highlight is Lanegan’s take on ‘Deepest Shade’, an outtake from The Twilight Singers’ first-album sessions. Here, the vocals sound truly devastated, set against heartbroken violins.
‘Imitations’ comes at the right time of year: like autumn, it has a decayed feel. Yet, this is more triumphant than simply bleak, evidenced by Lanegan’s version of John Cale’s ‘I’m Not The Loving Kind’ (below), which edges towards the epic, relatively speaking.
Listen to this record beside a log fire, waiting for the summer to come back around – in this sort of company, the time will pass before you know it.
Words: Cai Trefor
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Stream ‘Imitations’ in full via Deezer, below…