Undoubtedly, the crowning culmination of Mark Lanegan’s life’s work, the darkly majestic Blues Funeral offers further evidence that, for an addict, there is never any freedom from addiction.
Though apparently now clean of his former heroin habit, Lanegan’s songs here positively writhe with the lingering twitch of druggy desire, lyrically reflected in varying degrees of metaphorical imagery, from the relatively direct (“Lost on a violent sea/Gone for endless days”) to the more elliptical, but still fairly obvious (“The moon don’t smile on Saturday’s child lying still in Elysian fields/ I don’t know what the doctor he did, now I’m all day long with my body in bed”). It’s been a constant theme throughout Lanegan’s career, but this time it’s found its most appropriate and satisfying setting, in the warm, enveloping arrangements created for the songs by Alain Johannes, with textured layers of synths, Mellotron and guitars swirling miasmically about Lanegan’s smoky baritone.
Track after track finds the singer crippled with boredom, contemplating the miserable passage of days. In “Gray Goes Black”, the bustling krautrock motorik evokes the inner restlessness as he confronts the stasis of the soul, “so insect I’m in amber”. It’s a torment likewise haunting “Leviathan”, where “the hours crawl by like a spider/ hangman is following me”. The wan, disjointed organ solo is like to a cork bobbing on the ocean, unable to control its course, and when the closing coda of “everyday a prayer for what I never know” comes cascading in round-style layers of harmony, it feels like a supportive twelve-step anthem to which he’s desperately clinging.
Musically, it’s the most accomplished of Lanegan’s albums. “The Gravedigger’s Song” opens proceedings with a lumbering but limber groove that evokes the galloping menace of apocalyptic horsemen, and Josh Homme helps bring a Gun Club flavour to the predatory fuzz-guitar groove and strident lead line of “Riot in My House”. Heavier still is “Quiver Syndrome”, with harsh, strident guitar chording over a thunderous caterpillar-track beat. At the other extreme, the classic blues flood motif of “Bleeding Muddy Water” is set to an oozing, sticky blend of shivering guitar and trembling keyboard.
“St Louis Elegy” features a similarly dark, throbbing undertow of low frequencies, with the slow shuffle of drum-machine like manacles on the soul as a fretful, earthbound Lanegan contemplates death from the skies. Comparative light relief comes in the centre of the album, with “Ode to Sad Disco” recalling Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” – if that could be considered “light” – and the lovely, fatalistic melody of “Phantasmagoria Blues” floating on an oceanic miasma stippled with prickly percussion, a formula triumphantly reprised with added Mellotron and reversed guitars for the concluding “Tiny Grain of Truth”. Taken as a whole, it’s a marvellous piece of work, boasting a rare congruence between lyrical themes and musical evocations, and fronted by one of the most broodingly characterful voices in rock music. (Andy Gill-UK)