Album Review: Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio


Mark Lanegan has a long and, well perhaps not so varied back catalogue behind him. Until now. Phantom Radio is very much a Mark Lanegan Band album, but you’ve never heard him get his groove on quite like this before. It opens with Harvest Home, a lurching midpaced rocker before leading into Judgement Time, a slow, stripped down track, very much in the vein of his early solo material. But just when you think, “here we go, just another Mark Lanegan album”, the groove-factor changes up with Floor Of The Ocean, all regimented beats and icy Joy Division/New Order style synths. It’s noticeable here and on other tracks that his vocals have very much cleaned up and his once trademark rasp has been replaced by a smoother croon. It’s a bit hit and miss in places. The Killing Season and Seventh Day are a little 90s trip-hop: the former is smooth and sultry, you half expect Hope Sandoval to pop up with a vocal rather than Lanegan. The latter is focused around a highly catchy “la la la” chorus over almost perky dance-tempo.

The gear changes with the shimmering guitars of I Am The Wolf , which has a slightly obvious lyric about being a “wolf without a pack”. It’s a little Lanegan-by-numbers, yet acts as a sort of palette-cleanser for what follows. On Torn Red Heart his Joy Division fixation reaches its natural conclusion, the arrangement is sort of daughter of that band’s classic track Atmosphere. Lanegan sings a tender, vulnerable vocal in a higher register than usual over swirling keyboards. It’s quite far away from Lanegan’s usual prince of darkness routine, yet it works really well. Later, the soaring Waltzing In Blue is best described as a grunge-synth ballad, while The Wild People has him crooning over strings in the manner of last year’s covers album Imitations, albeit to far better effect. He finishes with a flourish on Death Trip To Tulsa. Here the electronics are more subtle, fitting in seamlessly with Lanegan growling “the Lord made me a poor man, the Lord made me a thief” over a descending melody.

Fans of guitars will find slim-pickings here but the keyboard-based arrangements are a decent substitute. The album is full of catchier than usual melodies, though it lacks any major peaks. As Mark Lanegan approaches 50, you have to give him credit trying something new.

Killian Laher

Tracklist:

1. Harvest Home
2. Judgement Time
3. Floor Of The Ocean
4. The Killing Season
5. Seventh Day
6. I Am The Wolf
7. Torn Red Heart
8. Waltzing In Blue
9. The Wild People
10. Death Trip To Tulsa

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