Mark Lanegan - Phantom Radio

by Nathan Fidler Rating:7.5 Release Date:2014-10-28

The difference between Mark Lanegan’s solo efforts and the Mark Lanegan Band is a bit of mystery, but the long break taken after Bubblegum in 2004 has seen a flurry of albums and EPs over the last two years. Phantom Radio is released under the 'band' name and sees Lanegan bringing more of the gothic disco along from his last full-length album.

Where Blues Funeral was lauded for its use of synth-pop, this album dials it back a little, allowing Lanegan to croon or brood over a series of sounds. ‘Harvest Home’ takes care of business with menacing electric drums (probably the only sign to distinguish that this is a 'band' album) and the statement: “I’m happy to be made of stone”.

The album carries all of the darkness which makes him Dark Mark, without appearing cheap. There are genuinely terrifying lyrics, such as over the simple acoustic picking of ‘Killing Season’: “Do you hear the children speaking backwards/ Their bodies float above the bed”. This is a perfect soundtrack for October without ever being gimmicky. As ever, Lanegan is at his best when he builds over tense bass and growling guitars, which closing track ‘Death Trip to Tulsa’ has in spades.

Where this album could be said to fall down is in its lack of variety in pace and some of the flat-feeling moments – most notably on the lead single ‘Floor of the Ocean’. ‘I Am the Wolf’ provides atmospheric acoustics and the classic vocals which sound weighted and pained, but it lacks any precision in melody or guitar work to make it stand out the way it could. Lanegan isn’t known for fret-work skills but if he had roped his pals in to inject instrumental gravity this could have been a real legendary record.

‘Torn Red Heart’ shows Lanegan trying for higher notes and just about making it work as a love-torn man (“You don’t love me/ What’s to love anyway?”), which is something you might not hear if you only take in his Queens of the Stone Age cameos or his stint with Greg Dulli. While ‘Seventh Day’ is the only bluesy sounding song – along with pipes and swarming synth – it’s clear that he’s attempting to flex all of his musical muscles here, something you might only get if you’re tuned into his phantom radio.

What should be appreciated above all else is that Mark Lanegan has been going at this for a long time now, and while he hasn’t got a huge vocal range, he does have a timeless feel to both his voice and his words. The sounds which accompany him will always shift ever so slightly, but while he’s still alive he won’t need to change his ghostly, otherworldly croon.

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