Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
In 1994, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack helped catapult Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s song “Girl, You’ll be A Woman Soon” to #59 on the Billboard Top 100, reigniting the success of the ’67 hit and bringing Diamond’s songwriting to a new modern audience. By ’94, Mark Lanegan had released two solo records, The Winding Sheet (1990) and Whiskey for the Holy Ghost (1994). He had also helped to define grunge by fronting the Seattle garage rock group The Screaming Trees, best known for their ’92 hit “Nearly Lost You.” Nearly twenty prolific years later, Lanegan releases Imitations, a collection of covers heavily inspired by ’60s and ’70s singers like Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra that Lanegan grew up listening to. But rather than a one-off, Lanegan’s cover album is just as timeless as the music he’s revisiting.
Three of the twelve vocal tracks on Imitations are songs made famous by Andy Williams. Where the “schmaltzy” dated production of the late ’60s and ’70s crooners might put off modern listeners, Lanegan’s renditions give classic songwriting a chance to shine again with subtle, moody rock treatment and deep, smoky vocals. “Lonely Street” features a clean arppegiated electric melody, true to the original recording but with its own identity as well as an incredible vocal track that highlights Lanegan’s range and dynamics. A standout is the acoustic “Mack The Knife,” originally sung by Bobby Darin. “Brompton Oratory” by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is a beautiful cover. “Deepest Shade” by Lanegan’s Gutter Twins bandmate Greg Dulli (Twilight Singers, Afgan Whigs) is an intimate and moving rendition.
Mark Lanegan has released seven solo records and contributed to and collaborated with innumerable artists (Queens of the Stone Age, Slash, Moby and Belle and Sebastian’s Isobel Cambell, to name a few) since the early ’90s without ever plateauing creatively or repeating himself. He does justice to some songs that others wouldn’t dare take on, some seriously signature pieces by the great singers of, well, if not our time, someone’s time. “Mack The Knife” (Bobby Darin), “Solitaire” (Andy Williams), and “Pretty Colors” (Frank Sinatra) are signature pieces by goliaths in the singing world. On Imitations, Lanegan proves himself as one of the great voices of his time, one that’s sure to inspire a new generation of imitations.