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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

News of Lanegan

Admit it: you’ve been wondering about Mark Lanegan lately. You’ve been asking yourself when he’ll be putting out another CD of often surprising, sometimes beautiful, occasionally frightening music. Even more importantly, you’ve been pondering one of life’s big questions: why has Zombyboy gone so long without indulging his semi-secret obsession?

Yeah. Good question.

It sounds as if Lanegan has been a busy boy. Aside from the rumors that still work to explain his departure from the Queens of the Stone Age tour--and the rumors are ugly in the way that rumors about musicians are always ugly--there have been a number of recent Lanegan sightings and the great potential for a whole lot of music coming our way. Of course, with anything Lanegan-related, release dates should be taken with a block of salt.

The Twee Lanegan

When Isobel Campbell couldn’t find anyone in her native Scotland to sing the low part on a song for her upcoming Ballad of the Broken Seas, the ethereal-voiced singer reached across the Atlantic and connected with one of rock’s deepest, growliest voices: former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan.

“Why Does My Head Hurt So?"--the first song that they did together--was gorgeous. The sound is lush and the song is sweet; it’s one of his finest vocal performances. I’m holding onto a lot of hope for this one. Theoretically, it should be out in September.

The Un-Twee Lanegan

At the Hullabaloo show in Silver Lake, former Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli gave up the goods on his upcoming collaboration with former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. The Gutter Twins, as the Nineties rock stalwarts are calling themselves, have almost wrapped the tentatively titled Saturnalia. “My favorite track is ‘All Misery,’” said Dulli. “I think it’s some of the best vocals Mark’s ever done. He’s one of my favorite singers of all time, so that’s going pretty deep.”

The Gutter Twins have been discussed for quite some time now, but the finished product just never seems to surface. Maybe with the time spent away from Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan really has had the time to put some of these products to bed.

To be honest, though, this one worries me a bit. Dulli is a creative force, but he’s also prone to missteps and overreaching. If he dominates the project, then it could end up sounding less like a collaboration and more like a Dulli side-project with Lanegan singing. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s far from ideal.

The Mysterious Lanegan

Ben Hater just got done recording 16 new songs with Mark Lanegan! Ben says its “gun-fighting music”

Ben Hater? Is that a reference to Ben Shepherd? Shepherd has worked with Lanegan on his last few albums, so that wouldn’t be a stretch, and Shepherd is the driving force behind the band Hater.

Or is it someone that I’ve just never heard of before? I feel so lost.

But 16 new songs of “gun-fighting music.” Yeah, you know I’m intrigued.

Now, about those release dates…

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Before Being Banished Back Into the World of Working Late Yet Again, Damnit…

I must bring your attention to three things:

1. Congratulations to McGehee. Three years of blogging is a tremendous accomplishment, and he’s remained one of my favorites since I discovered him.

2. Four freakin’ bunnies. That’s what Playboy.com is giving the upcoming Screaming Trees retrospective, Oceans of Confusion. Assuming I can find an outlet that’s carrying it here in Denver, I am only two days removed from hearing two unreleased Screaming Trees songs (along with, of course, having a sort of “best of” from the Trees’ three Epic releases). It doesn’t get any better than four bunnies, folks.

3. Val has been an unyielding force in writing about Castro’s government. As a resource for anyone who cares about freedom for Cubans, his Babalu Blog is an important resource. For the last few days, he has also been blogging from the Cuba Nostalgia convention. Just click and scroll for beautiful pictures, commentary, and thoughts from Val and a handful of his friends and supporters.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Retro Review: Mark Lanegan, Field Songs

You would have to be either very new to the site or a little dense to have missed my obsession with the music of Mark Lanegan. I’ve reviewed his albums, I’ve referenced him regularly along with the bands Queens of the Stone Age and Screaming Trees, and I’ve even posted a picture or two. The resulting head scratching curiosity and “I don’t get it” commentary from regular readers can be explained away easily: take the time to listen to Field Songs.

From the lost at midnight atmosphere of the opener, “One Way Street,” to the closing, painful ode to heroin, “Fix,” Field Songs is a beautiful trip. Lanegan’s rough voice, heartbreakingly direct without ever being overwrought, is magnificent. Where another singer with the same lyrics and same music might seem like an actor, Lanegan merely seems to be talking quietly about his life.

Read the Rest...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Review: Queens of the Stone Age, Lullabies to Paralyze

Queens of the Stone Age Sessions@AOL

Sometimes a good album--even a particularly good album--can be a disappointment. In the case of Lullabies to Paralyze, the disappointment isn’t that the songs aren’t better or that the band isn’t as good without the volatile Nick Oliveri playing bass. The songs are solid nearly front to back and the only musical presence that is missed is that of Dave Grohl on drums. No, the disappointment is that the CD doesn’t feel like much of a move forward for a band whose first three albums all had singular, unique identities. Damned good is a step down from the greatness of Songs for the Deaf and Rated R, in particular.

It starts out well enough. The slow, precise “Lullaby” is a spare song, but when part-time vocalist Mark Lanegan starts singing, it becomes something much deeper. Lanegan’s voice has a transformative power, lulling the listener away from what could otherwise have been a tiny, cliché of a song. It also stands as the only surprise you’re likely to find on the disc.

“Medication” and “Everybody Knows That You’re Insane” both drive the disc forward with aggressive rhythms and the kind of hard rock that is hard to find from Grammy-nominated, big-selling bands these days. They both stand as good, but typical, efforts from the band; the songs are performed well, all the ingredients are there, but it’s hard to escape the sense that we’ve heard these tunes before.

A song like the slower, but wonderfully titled “Tangled Up in Plaid,” is the reason that it would be a crime to neglect to buy the album. A song like “Burn the Witch” is the reason that Lullabies still comes close to being a classic.

With Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top adding a touch of Texas blues and Lanegan providing a dry-throat scrape to back up Josh Homme’s high and clear falsetto, is the best song on the album. It exists in a place not far from Led Zeppelin, but belonging entirely to the Queens of the Stone Age. Anyone with a love for rock and roll will be singing along at the end—"Burn the witch, burn to ash and bone.” Demented, sure, but catchy as hell.

Another obvious highlight is the first single, “Little Sister,” which is almost as radio friendly as Songs for the Deaf’s perfect “No One Knows.” It would be safe to predict movie placement and radio overkill for the fun little rocker with the sing-along chorus. Soon after “Little Sister” closes out the first half of the disk, though, the going gets bland. “I Never Came” stands as the kind of near-pop song that makes Queens a still-cool band balanced right on the edge of the mainstream acceptance, “Skin on Skin” just makes for unpleasant, tedious listening.

Intriguingly distorted vocals don’t manage to save “Someone’s in the Wolf” from its arty pretensions. At over seven minutes long, the song devolves into Halloween sound effects and musical noodling that ultimately prove tiresome. From there, most of the remainder of the disc is skip-it filler. The only exceptions are the groovy “You Got a Killer Scene There, Man,” with it’s almost impossible to hear guest vocals, and the mellow “Long, Slow Goodbye.”

The UK version of the album (NME.com is streaming the entire UK release on their site) has a couple songs that we won’t be seeing on the US release, and that’s an absolute shame. The first song, “Like a Drug,” is elevated from one of the Desert Sessions discs and sounds like a song recorded in the late 50’s or early 60’s; the cover of ZZ Top’s “Precious and Grace” is an intense, earthquake of a song. With Billy Gibbons and Mark Lanegan exchanging vocals, this one would have been the perfect bookend to the opener. The US release is poorer for the absence.

Lullabies could have been great, but its second half is too self-indulgent and the overall disc doesn’t present the same kind of step forward that came when the band went from the self-titled album to Rated R to Songs for the Deaf. Lullabies is an album with some great moments that doesn’t quite live up to the expectations.

But those moments of greatness still act as a compelling reason to buy the thing.

Check out the live performances in the Sessions@AOL archive.

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