Mark Lanegan - Gargoyle

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2017-04-21

I’ve never known Mark Lanegan to release a dud. Full disclosure, I’m a fan. Last year’s Phantom Radio was another in a long string of consistently rewarding efforts. Gargoyle is a welcome addition to his cannon. Its suitably dark and brooding but has a defiantly sly, positive edge. There's a shimmering beauty to this album.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge electronica fan. I'll tolerate it in small doses but never been a big New Order or Depeche Mode devotee. However, it’s evident Lanegan's been hinting in a more synthesized direction on his past few releases. Here on Gargoyle, he goes for it the throat with all the gusto of Feline-era Stranglers. Yet throughout, the synths never fall into mawkish Duran Duran self-parody. Depeche Mode are certainly a reference, but Lanegan’s gruff voice grounds the proceedings in the terra firma.   

Gargoyle’s opener is a pulsing dose of electronica. Considering his earlier flirtations, it’s a bit jarring. Yet, I can’t help falling for Gargoyle right from the opening track, ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’. “If I cry for you baby, your death’s head tattoo made me. Pray for the last one standing, holding a loaded gun,” he growls. Musically, and lyrically, Lanegan stands on the edge of the precipice as usual. ‘The devil lives in anything,’ he warns. And the devil is a constant allusion throughout Gargoyle.

By and large the lyrics are awash with a poetic symbolism not many singers today can pull off. Beehives and spiders. Gargoyles, witches and fountains of blood haunt these songs. But Lanegan makes it all sound devastatingly down to earth. Backed by the likes of Josh Homme, Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood, Lanegan’s song craft crackles and smolders on this one. This is especially evident on the rousing, ‘Nocturne’.

The album takes its title from the evocative third track, ‘Blue Blue Sea’. Lines like, “Gargoyle perched on Gothic spire”, have a self-deprecating wit about them. Something Lanegan is not given enough credit for. This gargoyle has the speakers cranked to 11, as he stares out over a deep blue sea far away. It’s not all gloom and doom beneath the Gothic skies. In fact, there’s an aching optimism to this album. I’ll be the first to argue, Lanegan was never all gloom and doom but always casting a wink at the silver lining.

‘Beehive’ is about as Pop as I’ve ever heard Lanegan. Of course, the subject matter is anything but. Yet, its these two opposing forces that makes this world gone wrong song so inviting. Despite the spiders crawling up his spine and the killing floors, “Honey just gets me stoned, just gets me stoned”. 

‘Sister’ is the kind of ominous brooder Lanegan fans come back for. Sparse funereal organ and Lanegan’s signature, gruff vocals. Beware those spirits in the wood. “The savage kingdom is blind”. I have no idea what he’s talking about but perhaps that’s what makes this song so mysterious and alluring. A highlight on an entire album of standouts.

‘Emperor’ is a jaunty carnivalesque number that could have easily graced a Doors album. “Who’s left to kill,” Lanegan opines. “Oh oh oh just the emperor.” Despite any murderous impulses, it’s one of the album’s most upbeat and accessible cuts.

In terms of ballads, one could ask for nothing better than the bleakly forlorn, ‘Farewell To Beauty’. Just stunning. Likewise, the equally gorgeous, ‘First Day of Winter.’  And never has fucking up sounded so beautiful than on, ‘Drunk On Destruction’. “I am the target and the gun,” he admits. The kind of line you could chisel on a gravestone.

Gargoyle ends with the perversely optimistic, ‘Old Swan’. A song which clearly seeks to thumb its nose up at Lanegan’s gloomy reputation.  One could almost hear Bono of U2 belting out this one. If Joshua Tree and Daniel Lanois come to mind, its intentional. “God in everyone, God in everything,” Lanegan croons but there is a dark plea in his voice when he calls out, “Queen of the world take me in your arms, let me live again”. A moving send off to a spectacular and addictive album.

One of the best records I’ve heard so far, this year.

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Huge fan but the full-on dose of electronica left me initially dismayed...but your review has me giving it a second shot; well done!

  • In reply to James Gerard
    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    I quite like his electronica flourishes myself, and he obviously likes dabbling after his collabs with Unkle and Bomb the Bass. More like electro-disco than electro-pop though, I reckon. Field Songs from about 15 years ago is my go to solo album of his though. Raw and confessional. Top review.