It’s no secret Mark Lanegan was a forerunner of grunge music. Universally known as the frontman for Screaming Trees and vocal collaborator in Queens of The Stone Age, Lanegan’s impact on the genre knows no bounds. The projects he created with these bands, and the many other collaborations that have defined his career will live on well past his unfortunate death on February 22, 2022. Lanegan’s beautiful creations are so plentiful that it may be easy to overlook how many solo projects he did and some of his extraordinary, but lesser talked about, collaborations and covers. However, these lesser-known works are yet more valuable tracks in this legendary artist’s oeuvre.
From 1990 to 2020 Lanegan released 12 solo albums, 2 solo EPs and even a memoir on top of an assortment of collaborations. One EP is a Christmas album titled Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012, which has only been available at his concerts. He then turned that EP into his 13th full album, Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020, that became available on both vinyl and CD exclusively through Rough Trade’s website and record stores.
Lanegan’s early works in his discography include The Winding Sheet, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, Scraps at Midnight and I’ll Take Care of You. His debut solo album, The Winding Sheet, has a more bluesy feel than the previous work he had done with Screaming Trees and this sound seemed to dominate the majority of his solo work moving forward. In his book, I Am the Wolf: Lyrics and Writings, Lanegan said, “Prior to this I had sometimes written words with the other members of my first band, or, more often, had tried to change their lyrics to fit me in a more personal way. This was a tedious, frustrating routine that was never enjoyable, and so The Winding Sheet became my first attempt at doing it alone.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dave Grohl paid tribute to this album by calling it the best album of all time as well as mentioning that Kurt Cobain looked up to Lanegan and this album. Cobain actually got to sing backup vocals and play the guitar on “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” and later on did his own cover for MTV’s Unplugged.
The debut album led way to Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. This smooth, country blues album almost didn’t make it to the world’s ears. Luckily, Jack Endino made sure that didn’t happen and stopped Lanegan from throwing the master tapes into the water. “Borracho” is the second track on Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. “Borracho” translates to ‘a drunk’ in English and it seems that Lanegan was very aware of the existential threat that drinking had on his life.
The frustration from this album did not discourage Lanegan from coming out with his third solo album titled Scraps at Midnight. This was the first album that he did clean, calling it “an exercise of letting go.” In an interview with The Quietus Lanegan said, “For years I’d say it was one of the most positive experiences I’d ever had, but that and the first one [The Winding Sheet] are the two records I like the least.” He also admitted that if he heard it today, which was 2012 at the time of the interview, he would cringe, but did say there are a couple of songs on it that he thinks are really good. “Praying Ground” sets up the ominous image of Lanegan sitting outside of a saloon in the Wild West era of America with a gun in one hand a cigarette in another.
Between Whiskey for the Holy Ghost and Scraps at Midnight, Lanegan was a guest vocalist on Mad Season’s only studio album Above. His voice can be heard on “Long Gone Day” along with “I’m Above,” and is also accredited for co-writing the music to those songs.
Lanegan’s solo projects truly highlight and encapsulate the range of talents that will be missed by this legendary musician. In them, he shares his ability to craft both heavy hitters and stripped-down works. He exhibited how he could interpret and cover a multitude of different artists in his fourth solo album, I’ll Take Care of You.
In the closing track “Boogie Boogie,” Lanegan blessed listeners with his treasured raspy, deep voice. Along with this, it shows that Lanegan can cover a song and make it his own, making it even more meaningful with simplistic tweaks like adding more prominent drums and letting the words drift together instead of using clear pronunciation. He proved that he can dominate covers, alternative rock, blues, grunge, rock and folktronica.
Lanegan’s first appearance on a Queen of the Stone Age album was in 2000 on Rated R. He sang vocals on “In the Fade,” a song that switches from smooth melodies to explosive riffs and showed that Lanegan’s voice could be a valuable asset to the band. In an interview with NME Lanegan revealed, “Josh asked me to be the singer in the Queens before they made the first record. This is while the Trees were still supposedly together. I listened to it and thought: ‘I think it’s fantastic, but you need to be the singer of this thing.’ Also, as it turned out, I was institutionalized for almost a year, so I missed out on the opportunity to sing on it.”
In 2001 Lanegan released Field Songs. In I Am the Wolf: Lyrics and Writings, Lanegan stated, “I consider the finished album to be one of my best, and it contains some of my favorite songs: ‘Don’t Forget Me,’ in which I flat-out took the melody and phrasing from an Israeli folk song and was immediately busted for it by fans when it was released; ‘One Way Street,’ which has been a constant in my set lists since the day it came out; and ‘No Easy Action,’ which I wrote after reading two stories in the newspaper one morning.”
“Kimiko’s Dream House” sees Lanegan sing in a softer, sweeter and mystical style. Again in I Am the Wolf… Lanegan said, “‘Kimiko’s Dream House’ was a gift from my favorite singer, friend, and mentor Jeffrey Lee Pierce. He gave me the music and half the lyrics and said, ‘Finish it.'”
After Field Songs Lanegan officially joined Queens of the Stone Age and sang lead vocals on “Hanging Tree” and “God Is in the Radio,” two tracks from Songs for the Deaf. The idea of three singers threw Lanegan off a bit, but admitted that it was really great in the end. In an interview with NME Lanegan said, “I’m really proud of what we did with Songs for the Deaf. That line-up with Nick Oliveri, Josh and I was easily the most powerful band I’ve been in, ever.”
The album that followed in 2004, Bubblegum, was extremely successful and reached number 39 on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart. This album is filled with star musicians, such as PJ Harvey, Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Greg Dulli, Dean Ween, Duff McKagen, Izzy Stradlin and Wendy Rae Fowler, who all complement Lanegan’s voice perfectly. Bubblegum is a journey worth letting your mind go while listening to. The song “Strange Religion” was used in season 6 of Californication. “Hit the City” is one of two singles that came from Bubblegum. PJ Harvey is featured on this track and was Lanegan’s first single to chart.
“When Your Number Isn’t Up” is the opening track for Bubblegum, and a great one at that. This swaying song is a bit spine-chilling, and we hear Lanegan’s vulnerability on top of an organ played by David Catching.
“Out of Nowhere” off of Bubblegum seems to be simply a guitar ballad at first, but then explodes into a song with a full band, piano included.
“One Hundred Days” is a sorrowful, but tender song that gives a glimpse of Lanegan’s addiction, something he has always been open about. In the track, the lyrics read: “I’d stop and talk to the girls who work this street, but I got business farther down.”
In 2006 Lanegan joined The Twilight Singers to share their version of “Live with Me,” an original Massive Attack song. Lanegan and Greg Dulli turn an already dark song even more obscure on this track, but in the best way. Lanegan’s gruffer voice, compared to Terry Callier’s more technical singing, really makes the meaning behind the song, and the lyrics stab at your heart. Two years later, Dulli and Lanegan created only one studio album, Saturnalia, under the band name The Gutter Twins. The last song on the record, “Front Street,” is a perfect album closer. The aesthetic that is created by this song is hard to ignore, a rock and blues-inspired track dipped cohesively in raw emotion.
Around the same couple of years, Lanegan collaborated with rock duo Soulsavers for two of their albums, It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land and Broken. Four extremely notable songs that came off both of those are “Ghosts of You and Me,” “Paper Money,” “Some Misunderstanding” and “Unbalanced Pieces.” Soulsaver’s psychedelic, electronic, alt-rock, gospel sound is something that you might not expect from Lanegan at the time, but he was up for the challenge. In an interview with Digging A Hole, Lanegan said, “The thing that draws me to these different projects is that it’s actually a treat to do something outside my realm and that keeps it interesting for me.”
Between 2006 and 2010 Lanegan teamed up with Isobel Campbell to create three albums titled Ballad of the Broken Seas, Sunday at Devil Dirt and Hawk. Off those three albums “Revolver,” “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk with Me,” “Saturdays Gone,” “Honey Child What Can I Do,” “Who Built the Road” and “Back Burner” are underrated musical magic. In an interview with The Guardian Campbell explained that it was Lanegan’s solo work that really caught her attention. At this point, she was also pursuing a solo career since leaving former band Belle & Sebastian in 2002. She was looking for a male voice that could accompany her when her friend suggested Lanegan. In the same interview, Campbell said, “Mark’s voice inspires me, to the point of obsession. The first time I saw him perform, I was shocked by how much pain there was in his voice; it was so moving.” About this experience, Lanegan said, “Usually I write the music, and am involved in the production. Here, my only job is to inhabit these songs, relate to them, to express them. It’s a learning process, a journey of discovery.”
2010 saw Lanegan work with UNKLE to create “Another Night Out” on their fourth studio album Where Did the Night Fall. James Lavelle’s wistful beat is accompanied by Lanegan’s trembling voice to create a pensive masterpiece.
Moby and Lanegan teamed up to produce “The Lonely Night” in 2013. An electronic, brooding arrangement that will give you the exact feeling as the title does. In 2021 Moby came out with Reprise where he got Lanegan and Kris Kristofferson to duet the original song, but with an orchestral backdrop instead.
In the same year as “The Lonely Night” Lanegan and Duke Garwood co-wrote and recorded Black Pudding. The duo decided to release “Cold Molly,” a groovy song on Black Pudding, a little less than a month before the album as a single.
Lanegan also released Imitation, another cover album in 2013. It is comprised of songs from his parent’s music collection. “I’m Not the Loving Kind” was originally released by John Cale. Lanegan’s version will touch your heart, making you empathetically believe the story of the song is his own.
Eight years after his last released solo album we saw the return of Lanegan’s solo work which contained five albums: Blues Funeral, Phantom Radio, Gargoyle, Somebody’s Knocking and Straight Songs of Sorrow, from 2012-2020. In an attempt to try something different for Blues Funeral, Lanegan moved from writing using the guitar to utilizing the keyboard and a drum machine instead. In I Am the Wolf: Lyrics & Writing Lanegan said, “If forced to choose only one of my albums to play live, this would be it.”
“The Grave Digger’s Song” is the opening track for Blues Funeral and was written entirely by Lanegan and was produced by Alain Johannes. It deviates from what we heard on Bubblegum and Lanegan proves, once again, that his diversity as a musician always paid off.
Phantom Radio is quite different than all the previous albums, fitting into a genre called folktronica. Lanegan decided that he wanted to experiment with electronic music and used a phone app called FunkBox to write the drum part for some of the songs. In an interview with The Quietus Lanegan said, “It’s [Phantom Radio] a reflection of what I’m into and taking some elements of music that I enjoy listening to and then applying it to what I’m doing.” Phantom Radio is credited to the Mark Lanegan Band, along with Gargoyle, Somebody’s Knocking and Bubblegum. In the same year as Phantom Radio, Lanegan and Earth released a slow jam, rock-heavy ballad titled “There is a Serpent Coming” that’s definitely worth a listen.
In 2016 Lanegan collaborated with The Duke Spirit to produce a moving and almost hypnotic piano ballad, “Wounded Wing.” He contributed vocals and Simon Raymonde played the piano.
Gargoyle continues down the path of having a more electronic sound to it. In an interview with Uncut Lanegan said, “By the time I made it in 2012 it had become a major element of my music. It feels like it’s been a natural progression and it has changed the way I write music in that now I don’t always start a song with guitar.” This new sound comes with the help of Rob Marshall who was a member of Exit Calm. Their relationship was solely long-distance while creating this album and all done by mail and email. “Emperor” is the sixth track on Gargoyle. It is a tune that evokes a dancing spirit even if the lyrics beg to differ.
“First Day of Winter” sets up the picture and emotions of sitting in front of your window, watching the rain run down it. In an interview with Renee Ruin Lanegan said, “I think “Nocturne,” “Emperor” and “First Day of Winter” are my favorites [of this album].” Additionally, in an interview with Magnet Magazine Josh Hommes said, “Very few songs in the world can me break down at any moment. ‘One Hundred Days’ is one of those songs.”
Along with Gargoyle in 2017 Lanegan and Brian Reitzell released a cover of “I Put a Spell On You.” The two kept the original jazz and blues ambiance but added more of a drum presence, and Lanegan’s signature voice creates a deeper level to the song.
Combining his original bluesy and synthetic sound, Somebody’s Knocking is cheerful and makes you want to dance. In Lanegan’s eyes, he is only using elements that have been around for decades. This is a very cohesive collaborative project that includes Rob Marshall, Sietse Van Gorkom, Martin Jenkins and Alain Johannes, who has worked alongside Lanegan since 2004’s Bubblegum. “Night Flight to Kabul” is a powerful example of him combining these differing styles effortlessly.
In 2018 Neko Case and Lanegan collaborated on the song “Curse of The I-5 Corridor,” a seven-minute track named after the highway that stretches down the American west coast. Their harmony is very in-sync and complements their very different singing styles. Lanegan also teamed up with Nicole Atkins to do a moving cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain.” In an email interview with mxdwn.com Atkins said, “The best thing with this cover is that I’ll play it and people don’t realize what they’re listening to until 30 seconds in. My dad thought it was a Conway Twitter cover. Then they all go, ‘Wait, is this November Rain?! I love that song!!!!’”
His most recent solo album, Straight Songs of Sorrow, was written to go along with his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep. This book contrasts his wild time spent in Seattle in the ’80s and ’90s when he played with Screaming Tree, and his time spent doing solo work at the same time. While the world around him was thrilled, he was in a rough place. Straight Songs of Sorrow takes you on an expedition of his life and is a museum full of all the different genres he played with since Whiskey For The Holy Ghost. There couldn’t be a better last album than this. Lanegan was amazed that he survived his grunge-era drug addiction after watching so many friends not. He surely made the best of his post-’80s and ’90s life. On “At Zero Below,” Lanegan chronicles a chilling story hinting at his past that has a blues, rock and electronic vibe with Ed Harcourt on an electric and regular piano. He was also able to have a fiddle on this track that fits right in. Genius.
In 2021 Cult of Luna mustered up the courage to finally ask Lanegan to do a collaboration on “Inside of a Dream” after fantasizing about it since Somewhere Along The Highway. In an interview with Metal Sucks, Johannes Persson explained how he emailed Lanegan saying that he had an idea for the song and could write the lyrics, but Lanegan was free to do whatever he wanted. Persson then told Metal Sucks, “And I got an answer straight back. [Lanegan replied] ‘Yes, I already recorded the song. I really enjoyed it, I cannot do any retakes because I disassembled the whole studio to move from the house. I hope you like it, if not, it was a good time.’ And I listened to it like, ‘Dude, you don’t have to do any retakes. You’re not that kind of person.’”
Also in 2021, Lanegan and Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line, along with Duff McKagan on bass, tuned to their darker side and released a Halloween must-listen titled “Living Dead” as Dark Mark and Skeleton Joe. In an interview with Beats Per Minute Lanegan admitted he was not that engrossed in the horror genre. In the same interview, Cardamone said, “That’s the great thing about Mark as an artist: he can really tell stories through his songs, and bring you to this visual place. You can see the whole thing unfolding. He’s amazing that way.”
While his time spent with Queens of the Stone Age and Screaming Trees should never be forgotten or discredited, these solo projects, collaborations and covers, without a doubt, deserve to be checked out and recognized as part of his genius artistic creations. Lanegan paved the way for himself to stay relevant for an absurd amount of time and created more albums in his 57 years than some artists produce in their lives twice over. In an interview with Clash Lanegan said, “I’ve been very, very luck. I’ve always had this core audience that has picked up new members along the way. Sometimes I’d play in Milwaukee and it would be 20 Screaming Trees fans and that’s how they would know me, but when I play in England I’m thought of as a guy who’s making music that is vital and of our time, people don’t even know who Screaming Trees are.”
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat