Mark Lanegan - Phantom Radio (Vagrant/Heavenly)

US alt rock legend approaches something close to peak solo form on ninth LP

Released Oct 20th, 2014 via Heavenly / By Erick Mertz
Mark Lanegan - Phantom Radio (Vagrant/Heavenly) With another Mark Lanegan album comes another opportunity to unravel yet another multi-hued thread from the riddling skein of his long career. From the Screaming Trees, to Mad Season, Gutter Twins and Queens of the Stone Age, to his work with Isobel Campbell, each release extrapolates on the factual notion that the Seattle singer-songwriter is among the rare providing genuine surprises.

At first blush, Lanegan’s newest record, Phantom Radio feels a shade brighter than his previous work, especially Blues Funeral and Bubblegum (although the former and this record share a producer, Alain Johannes) each relishing their place on the gallows play list. I don’t want to go so far to call this record upbeat, but there is a much lighter sound underneath themes of death, suffering and mourning.

Lanegan seems to be experimenting with beats, “Floor Of The Ocean” delivering an almost Violator era Depeche Mode feeling; the airy, new-age beat and dizzy keys on “The Killing Season” lend the song an almost adult contemporary radio sensation. Revelatory is rarely an adjective I’d apply to a Lanegan track, but “Torn Red Heart” has its gaze fixed firmly skyward. My first impression is to question, but repeat listens reflect how ably he pulls off this disguise.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Mark Lanegan is the relationship he creates between vocal and lyric. On one hand, his voice delivers a gruff enigma covering basic lyrics; and than vice versa, when his lyrics are cryptic, his gravelly growl makes for an even deeper resonance. He’s been pulling this off since “I Nearly Lost You” an undeniably earnest track filled with simple lines. Rare are the artists who can sing a rather drag couplet like “Black is my color/black is my name” as he does on the lead track, “Harvest Time” and imbue it such menace. No other vocalist working today could pull off “I Am The Wolf” with quite dusk light, western sensibility. On Phantom Radio there is a trifle bit wider disparity between tone and content but again, the results don’t exactly disappoint.

Lanegan’s work has morphed into a limitless proposition. His records nail a level of bleary-eyed consistency, while his collaborations offer a rich depth of variety (consider Moby and Earth among other, more obscure connections).Phantom Radio demands a moment of acclimatisation, but after repeat immersions, it not only meets the standard but it pushes it further down into that exalted gutter.