A Timeless Fragment of Mark Lanegan’s Past
By 2002, Mark Lanegan, singer of ‘90s grunge band Screaming Trees and a proponent of the Seattle grunge scene, had released five solo studio albums that showed an earthier tone of the gravely-voiced punk rocker. Since then, Lanegan has further developed his solo discography, the last of which was Phantom Radio, a post-punk infused experimental rock album, showing the versatility and vision of the unique artist. Houston (Publishing Demos 2002), released August 21 through Ipecac Recordings, is a glimpse into Lanegan’s past solo career.
Houston (Publishing Demos 2002), as the name suggests, is a collection of 12 tracks recorded in 2002 that Lanegan deferred, until now. This year coincides with the then-recent breakup of Screaming Trees, a transitory period for the singer, and his metamorphosis can be seen through his releases. The recordings of Houston were preceded by Field Songs (2001), the last of his more traditional folk-blues albums, and followed by Here Comes That Weird Chill (2003), an electrified grunge-funk album that is otherworldly compared to those before it. Though it resembles the folk style of Field Songs, Houston isn’t so much a bridge between the 2001 and 2003 albums as it is a turning point into Lanegan’s later material.
Over a decade after the songs have been recorded, it’s difficult to enter the contextual mindset of the moment in history. The tracks blend many of Lanegan’s influences ranging from folk to psychedelia, making it hard to pinpoint the stylistic origin in his discography, as it could have been released at any phase in his career. It doesn’t help that a few of the tracks were featured on the soundtrack of Cook County, a 2009 drama following Texan meth addicts, yet the songs fit the bill perfectly.
Houston (Publishing Demos 2002) opens with a strummed acoustic guitar in “No Cross To Carry,” a dark folk tune that introduces the raspy baritone of Mark Lanegan. Dedicated fans will recognize tracks such as “Grey Goes Black,” featured on the Has God Seen My Shadow? (2014) set. “When It’s In You,” an unhinged mix of folk and psychedelia complete with a wailing guitar solo, is an earlier version of “Methamphetamine Blues” off Bubblegum (2004). “The Primitives” is an interesting mix of darker blues vocals and post-punk guitar strumming ornamented by ominous tones, however, like a few other tracks on the album, it seems to end just as it’s getting started.
Houston seems to be pieced together from parts synthesized in Lanegan’s past, yet the components are exquisitely crafted. The album is dark and intriguing, perpetuated by Lanegan’s deep, rusty vocals and a folk guitar. The transitional nature of the album makes it fit anywhere and nowhere in his past career, making it a titillating installment for past and future Mark Lanegan fans.