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Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio

Over the years Mark Lanegan has managed to stay in constant rotation in my life. So when a new album drops as good as this I just had to give it a few hundred spins and then write about it. We’ve heard reviewers wax philosophical about Mark’s voice being like aged whiskey, an old friend coming for a visit, or the new Johnny Cash. Despite all the hyperbole, what is it that makes Mark Lanegan such a compelling musician? Lanegan and crew first and foremost have managed to make music that has an earthy-grit to it. There is a reassuring consistency to the music he makes whether with his band or solo. No pop tunes here, no need to crack the top 100, no remixes. The music that passes through Mark’s cranium and onto paper is one of visceral emotional release. Call it keeping it real or stripped down, the fact is there is a benefit to keeping the recipe simple. Too many musicians seem to forget this basic approach. If you’ve loved songs like ‘Leviathan’ and ‘One Hundred Days’ from past efforts than you will love everything on this record.

Phantom Radio conjures images of old International brand Pickups, barbed wire fences, cattle guards on the roads, gold miners, hailstorms, tumbleweeds, and the last vestiges of light in the western sky.

The opening track ‘Harvest Home’ is a stunning number filled with a deceptively catchy repetitive guitar line backed with a pulsating beat, buffeted by some heavy synth. This retro sound reminds me of The Cure tossed in an aural salad with ‘Love will Tear us Apart’ era Joy Division. Like the man says, “Black is the color, Black is my name.”

‘Judgement time’ is the type of track Mark seems to record on every album. A sparsely arranged track of organ and minimalist guitar over which his guttural voice blasts its dark biblical message.

‘The Killing Season’ is a track that appeals immediately with its drum-machine and synth vibe. The retro amalgam of the 80’s and his Goth-folk vibe don’t feel contrived, instead the time feels right to dust this sound off and present it to the world once again.

‘I Am The Wolf’ is the payoff of making it to the second side. This song is worth the price of admission alone, a high water mark in a string of amazing albums. A tragic brooding song, that’s best not to listen to it on a dark winters day. Visually Lanegan paints quite the stark scenario of rejection and accepting one’s fate. The belief that, “No one remembers much of anything that came this way before” makes us question if anything we do in this life leaves much of a lasting impression, or if it’s just all a show.

Another amazing song is the funerary ‘Waltzing in Blue’. On this number Mark is double tracked harmonizing with himself. The beauty of this song is the dirge like, claustrophobic sound of the synths. The deceptively simple musical lines allow for the music to seep immediately into the core of your being.

‘Death Trip to Tulsa’ closes out the album with a bouncing super heavy foggy jam. This is late night radio you’d be scared to tune into on a lonely stretch of Texas highway, with only your headlights to guide you. The rare flash of lightning in the distance from a dying thunderstorm, on a path straight to hell.

Phantom Radio seems to have benefitted from a two pronged thematic approach of alternate heavy synth numbers balanced with the stripped down numbers where Mark spins his dark tales of woe. If we are to do this album any justice it will be to not let it slip so easily into the rear view mirror of life. Mark Lanegan and his band have once again made music that evokes the feel of the west, the wide-open spaces, and the desolation of life. Like Nick Cave he has managed to constantly innovate while never losing sight of who he is or his own personal narrative. Amen for that.

Official web page

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