Mark Lanegan Band - Bubblegum
This is an epic album, 15 tracks, fifty minutes of music and a cast of guest stars that would put 'The Simpsons' to shame. 'The Mark Lanegan Band' this time consists of such luminaries as PJ Harvey, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan as well as the usual partners in crime, Chris Goss, Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri from 'Masters Of Reality' and 'Queens of the Stone Age' respectively. There's something of a collective going on here and in many ways The Mark Lanegan Band can be seen as a continuation of the collective approach favored by QOTSA. It goes without saying of your a fan of QOTSA then you should waste no time familiarizing yourself with the back catalogue of Mark Lanegan. You absolutely should also have a listen to 'Screaming Trees', of course, and then round the whole thing off with getting hold of some of 'Masters of Reality's early work. Your ears will love you for it.
So, then, 'Bubblegum' and with Lanegan and his massive band you'd expect something of a patchy affair. Well, it is and it isn’t is the not so easy answer. Make no mistake, this is Lanegan's album; his throaty, seductive low growl is high in the mix and his melancholy tales of bad drugs, dirty sex, love, death and the whole shebang slide of his tongue in the same way hot butter slides off a knife. This is an album driven by the vocal and, as such, it's mainly a very mellow, laid-back affair. The undercurrent of menace present in Lanegan's voice is highlighted by the music, which for the most part is deep, low, distorted bass and guitar that makes up most of the songs. The only real problem with it is it's sheer length. Out of the fifteen songs on here, about ten are instant classics and the rest are fillers. 'Come To Me' is a case in point. Despite the contribution from PJ Harvey, it's a bit underwhelming and you'll find your attention wandering with this one and a few others, such as 'Like Little Willie John'. There's nothing wrong with these songs, and they might well be growers, but they seem a bit by the numbers, which is a shame, as a lot of the album sounds quite experimental.
One such song, 'In The City' is a killer track and really should have opened the album. Harvey's vocal here shadows Lanegan's growl and adds a whole new dimension to Lanegan's approach. It's a dark, strange acid tinged trip into insanity that kicks you in the head. Its main riff is a truncated horribly distorted bass that sounds as though it's trying to escape from some primordial quagmire. Add electronic drums and you have a seriously disturbing song. Lanegan and Harvey back each other's vocals and it sounds wonderfully haunting. Another stand out is 'Head', which adds a synthesizer riff to a loose, bluesy electric guitar riff and the whole package sounds like something the Rolling Stones would have been proud to add to 'Goats Head Soup'. It's immediately followed by 'Driving Death Valley Blues' which is a bulldozer of a song that has shades of industrial rock; all barely recognizable guitars and a beat that pounds away like John Homes on Viagra.
More melancholy is 'One Hundred Days' which is classic Lanegan; a slow tale of loss and regret with a beatiful melody and chorus. Perfect for late nights, whisky and regrets. 'Bombed' is another example of how things should be done. It's short, simple, bittersweet and quite lovely. 'Memphatamine Blues' still sounds great and fits in with the album as well as it did with the EP that came out last year and is reviewed here. It's a shame that the excellent 'Message To Mine' has been left off the album, but it does make the purchase of the EP something of a necessity and every song on that little disc is both a sinner and a winner.
'Bubblegum', on the whole, is something of a flawed classic. When it's good it's excellent, but there's one too many fillers to make it a perfect album. It's still one of the strongest albums released for quite a while. Slipping onto the shelves with hardly a hint of hype and that's OK, this is one album that shouldn't need it for it'll sell by word of mouth for years to come.
And what’s more is that Mark Lanegan is on tour very soon. Check out the tour dates and the live review.