With the exception of Layne Staley, there was perhaps no other musical soul to emerge from the Seattle “grunge” scene as tortured as Mark Lanegan. The ex-Screaming Trees vocalist, amid the era’s sludgy guitars and displaced melancholy, would assume his post-grunge descent into self-imposed introspection, the kind of searching that can only be accomplished by an artist so removed from any trace of notoriety that they make the hipster coffeehouse set look like arena-rock charlatans. This two-disc compilation of Lanegan’s best solo material culled from a 22-year period is evidence of not only an artist’s voyage into unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll catechism, but also a fine selection of roots-based songwriting and haunted Americana dialect.
Lanegan’s love of the blues is no secret. Before Nirvana hit big, Lanegan was set to collaborate on a project with Kurt Cobain in tribute to the legendary blues maverick Lead Belly – a glimmer of what could have been shone on Nirvana’s aching cover of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” from their MTV Unplugged session. This earthen spirit of folk/American Gothic perspective lines the walls of tracks like “Bombed,” where the lamp-lit baritone atonement of Lanegan’s vocal weaves a revealing tale of morning-after lucidity.
If you’re new to Lanegan’s solo work, you’ll soon find that it bears little resemblance to the Screaming Trees’ rock chops. There are irresistible nods to darkened jangle, though, sort of like an R.E.M. on Prozac type of vibe, on tracks like “One Way Street” – Lanegan’s vocal delivery is something close to Tom Waits’ growl interpreted through a David Bowie croon. . “Leaving New River Blues” rocks an acoustic F# riff over a simple, trance-like snare – Lanegan’s seedy regret at “try give up on this gambling, and lost more than my fair share” reverberates with the hard thud of a human hitting rock bottom.
An emotionally draining piece of art, Lanegan’s career-spanning retrospective explores the shadowy depths of consciousness and painstakingly seeks answers through the filter of inner anguish – truly mesmerizing, non-conforming music.
Mark Lanegan ‘Has God Seen My Shadow? – An Anthology 1989-2011’ Rating: W W W W V