Nice to know old gravel larynx Mark Lanegan is releasing an album he composed largely on his phone. Apparently this is his krautrock/post-punk inspired album. Nice to know the singer from The Screaming Trees was soaking up lots of British and German music in his youth rather than digging Alice Cooper and Blue Cheer. He explains, kindly, that he's waited until impending old-man status looms large over his life before he begins pastiching the music he loved when he wore plaid shirts and had long hair. It cannot be any more cringeworthy or mawkish than that crooner-style mess he forced on us a while back.
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Lanegan's voice is constantly and without fail described as if it were an immovable object: stony, gravelly, brooding, it's a force that never wavers. When I hear it, though, I find it more akin to Vic Chesnutt's than Bill Callahan's. The best thing about Lanegan is that he trembles when he sings, as if he's more afraid of the end of the world than he's letting on. The best example of this comes two songs into 'Phantom Radio', his versatile new record. "Judgment Time" is a centrepiece for his voice, complemented with nothing more than a quiet, medieval synth line and well-buried acoustic chords -- he sings as if he's actually anticipating the apocalypse from the ground, the fear of God inside him as his vowels wobble and fade away. It's commanding, but it's not the work of a deep-baritoned monster; like his recent work on Earth's doomy 'Primitive and Deadly', Lenagan's voice has a humanising quality, making terrifying landscapes feel a little less terrifying.
There's less of Screaming Trees' grunge nihilism and Lanegan's scarce wasteland landscaping on 'Phantom Radio', though. Lanegan instead pays homage to the genres he always loved but never really fit the bill for: krautrock structures, new wave synths and post-punk riffs are scattered through the record's ten songs, like parts of rubble Lanegan desperately wants to put back together. It's fair to say he has a strong understanding of the genre hallmarks, with "Floor Of The Ocean" recalling New Order working a tight deadline. "The Killing Season' layers its synth a bit too bright and strong -- it sounds kinda like late era Eels, in all honesty -- but hearing it juxtaposed with Lanegan's dust bowl lyrics is strangely compelling.
For such a notorious naysayer and hate-mongerer, Lanegan has made a sweet, surprisingly beautiful record with 'Phantom Radio', one that can only shimmer in the face of an apocalypse, that can only ever find heartbreak serene and wonderful ("You don't love me", he sings on "Torn Red Heart", which is probably the record's most saccharine and brightly electronic cut). Here, Lanegan learns the trick to making the best sad song: grin while you're doing it. Regardless of its melancholic content, 'Phantom Radio' is a treat to the man who made it, from the man who made it -- but it's pretty fun to hear if you're not him, too. And you probably aren't
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- Phantom Radio by Mark Lanegan
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