Bringing Back the Blues
Mark Lanegan is a busy man. After years of performing with the Screaming Trees in the ’80s and ’90s, he’s played with the Queens of the Stone Age, released six solo albums, and collaborated with a score of musicians, including Isobel Campbell of Belle & Sebastian fame. Eight years after the release of his most successful record, 2004’s Bubblegum, we now have Blues Funeral.
Blues Funeral has its roots in the grunge scene from which Lanegan appeared back in 1985. On opener “The Gravedigger’s Song,” low rocking guitars and bass thrum under Lanegan’s signature gravelly baritone, with heavily distorted licks shivering in the background. He creates a sound at once rocking and brooding on “Riot in My House,” an energetic romp flavored with wailing guitars and pounding keys. “Quiver Syndrome,” flavored with futuristic effects and splattered with the occasional synth melody, gives Lanegan’s raunchy rock a welcome twist.
Lanegan does the blues with a modern twist – it’s no funeral for the genre, but a recreation and revitalization. “Bleeding Muddy Water” is a full out blues-grunge hymn, mixing the lyrics of old southern spirituals and blues with heavy, plodding bass and atmospheric guitar notes hovering in the background like the premonition of a storm. The sedate “St. Louis Elegy” falls into this vein as well, a melancholy ode to the Midwest saturated with reverb and Lanegan’s supple baritone. Lanegan adds a touch of ominous strings and low slide guitar to the slightly-sinister “Leviathan,” giving the slow blues song a dark, foreboding feeling that grows into one of the album’s best moments.
But Blues Funeral reaches out past the blues, too – there’s even the lo-fi “Ode to Sad Disco,” a meandering post-disco jam dripping with layers of synth and guitar harmonies. The album does have some slow spots, like the rather unexciting “Phantasmagoria Blues” and the generic “Gray Goes Black.” But overall, it’s a solid effort and a great follow-up to the success of Bubblegum. Far from laying the blues to rest in a grave of forgotten vinyl and tapes, Blues Funeral shows how the genre can make a comeback, albeit with a twist.