Indefatigable collaboration-master and growling vocalist Mark Lanegan has established himself as something of a cult phenomenon over the past three decades.
From his beginnings in grunge pioneers Screaming Trees to his brilliant Queens Of The Stone Age contributions and right across a solo career, his output has remained largely consistent or (at the very least) quite interesting.
A new album, ‘Phantom Radio’, is on the horizon for an autumn release, but prior to this potential delight Lanegan has whet our lips with something of an appetiser in a five track EP entitled ‘No Bells On Sunday’. Mmmm, tasty.
Shaky metaphors notwithstanding, the EP itself begins with the six-minute long ‘Dry Iced’, an ethereal pitter-patter laced with a swimming guitar line and some electronic fuzz, before a techno-ish 4/4 beat starts and never, ever stops. The baritone vocals amongst the constant thump are almost reassuring, and the whole track sounds like it was constructed for high volumes, dark rooms and stimulants.
Next up is the much slower and resonant title track, which sticks to the electronic blueprint whilst finding its influence more in ambiance and trip-hop than throbbing madness. The sense of melancholy is highlighted with little echoes and subtle programmed hums that gently rock you back and forth. Think sad American Massive Attack and you wouldn’t be too far off.
Then, suddenly, ‘Sad Lover’ bursts with some real, tangible, hit-em-all-you-like drums and only a tiny smattering of electronic noise. Being led by an elevating guitar line and rock chorus, the third track has more of a traditional Lanegan sound whilst keeping consistent elements of regularity and repetition that are found in the more mechanised openers. This is sure to be a favourite for lovers of his old noise.
Without beating around the bush, fourth track ‘Jonas Pap’ is a huge disappointment. Breaking the pulsation and introducing a banjo and some background string sections, there are some sombre and sometimes cringeworthy lyrics along with jarring key changes that make the whole affair sound like a corny homage to folk.
Moving swiftly along, the finale ‘Smokestack Magic’ returns happily to the overall structure of the EP after its baffling predecessor. The synths are back with a vengeance, as is a mellower version of the dance beat from ‘Dry Iced’. Lanegan sings, “I came awake and heard the voice of Jesus Christ, you make me feel like I’ve already died”, this repeated throughout as layer upon layer of noise is added. The climax is essentially another incrementally louder dance beat and once again the vocal element feels more like an accompaniment than leading the auditory charge. This is a positive ending, but still lacks the drive that was found in the opening track.
Overall ‘No Bells on Sunday’ is a solid contribution from such a seasoned artist, the electronic/organic fusion works well despite one major hiccup. The first three tracks alone are enough to get any sane individual excited about his forthcoming album.