There are three separate and distinct sides to Mark Lanegan’s singing career.
First there’s his work as singer for The Screaming Trees. History has kind of resigned the Ellensburg, Washington foursome as either a B-level grunge group or one-hit wonders. Neither term is particularly flattering, and while some of their music is a little stuck in the grunge era, they’re actually better than you might remember. Definitely better than Soundgarden or Alice In Chains to these ears. I’d include Pearl Jam in that list, but unlike Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, I never liked Pearl Jam’s music to begin with.
The second side is what is referred to in this interview http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-gutter-twins-greg-dulli-mark-lanegan,14199 as the rock equivalent of a utility infielder. While that’s a funny and astute comment on its own, the fact that Lanegan then compares himself to 1980’s baseball journeyman Rance Mulliniks is downright hilarious. Lanegans “utility work” would encompass all of his appearances as a collaborator with Queens Of The Stone Age, The Gutter Twins, Soulsavers, The Twilight Singers and Isobel Campbell. Of these varied acts, I prefer Lanegans songs with Queens Of The Stone Age the most, simply because I prefer Queens over those other bands. They rawk.
The third side of Lanegan, and the one I like the most, is his career as a solo artist. With six albums, an EP, and a host of compilation tracks to his name, Lanegan is one of the top singer-songwriters working in music today, yet nobody really knows about it. Langegan’s solo album will surprise people who only know him through other outlets. You should know up front, that if you’re expecting grizzly long-haired he-man rock, then you’re going to be largely disappointed. His solo albums are stripped down and intimate, and delve into folk, blues, r&b, soul and even a little country (but not the annoying kind). The only thing they have in common with The Screaming Trees or Queens Of The Stone Age is Lanegan’s distinct voice: Part velvety smooth, and part grit, Lanegan’s got the kind of pipes which would somehow remind you of whiskey and cigarettes even if he recorded an album of pro-Prohibition anthems. If you like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Tindersticks, and Tim Buckley you should have no problem warming up to Lanegan’s music.
If you’re wondering where to start with Lanegan’s discography, the answer is “anywhere”. All of his albums are really good, and there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. His 1990 debut, The Winding Sheet is notable for Kurt Cobain’s presence on a pair of songs, including a cover of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, which Kurt would famously cover with Nirvana for MTV Unplugged in 1994. I’ll Take Care Of You, from 1999, is an all-covers album with Lanegan tackling songs from obscure and well-chosen sources like Tim Hardin, Eddie Floyd, Buck Owens and The Gun Club. Bubblegum, from 2004, is his most rock-friendly album (perhaps explaining why it’s credited to Mark Lanegan Band, rather than just Mark Lanegan), with guest spots from PJ Harvey, Josh Homme, and Izzy and Duff from Guns’N’Roses, among others.
Lanegan’s got a new album coming out in early 2012 called Blues Funeral. It’s his first new solo album in eight years. Until then, buy everything he does. Amazon has most of his old CDs for under $5. Go. Now.
Here are a few favorites to get you in the mood: