Mark Lanegan – Imitations (Heavenly)

The man with the voice returns, but for a lacklustre cover session

Released Sep 16th, 2013 via Heavenly / By Lewie Peckham
Mark Lanegan – Imitations (Heavenly) Ex-Screaming Tree and occasional Gutter Twin, Mark Lanegan is blessed with a truly magical voice. A rough baritone that sounds like it has lived a thousand lives and has provided the dark, devilish shade to the light of critically acclaimed collaborations with Belle & Sebastian's Isobel Campbell.

Imitations isn't the first time Lanegan has tackled the work of other musicians. 1999’s I’ll Take Care of You was a rich, gorgeous delve into decades of folk, blues and country, Lanegan's jet black croon wrapping itself around songs by Tim Harding, Buck Owens and The Gun Club’s Jeffery Lee Pierce. On Imitations, however, the results are less consistent leading to a very confusing and, at times, underwhelming album.

When Imitations gets it right, as it does on opening track ‘Flatlands’ (a cover of goth-folk chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe), it’s a fitting, if all too familiar, version of the original. In the case of Flatlands, keeping the ethereal majesty of the softly picked guitars and swells of violin but trading Wolfe's breathy, reverbed vocals for that muddy croak of Lanegan’s.

This is where Imitations’ problems lie.

When Lanegan covers his musical peers (Greg Dulli, Nick Cave and John Cale) it becomes a collection of plain, sound-alike covers of songs that come off exactly how you would imagine Mark Lanegan covering ‘Brompton Oratory’ or ‘I’m Not the Loving Kind’ to sound. Even worse occurs when Lanegan tackles standards like ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’. The former is an uncomfortable attempt to drag the light-hearted swing of the original, made famous by Bobby Darin, into a stripped-down acoustic mumble while the latter is an overwrought dirge, where Lanegan’s vocals grate against the lush, orchestral flourishes of the song.

The awkward musical choices and criticisms of playing it safe are in no way a slight on Lanegan’s vocals; throughout they remain as raggedly impressive as ever and provide some tracks with their only saving grace. Imitations, however, is sadly the blandest form of flattery.