There are some musicians that have their heyday in their youth, and there are others who are at their best by the time they’re middle-aged. Then there are musicians, like Mark Lanegan, who age like fine wine. Although he released Hawk with former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell in 2010, this is the first solo album Lanegan’s released since 2004’s Bubblegum. But with his past fame as a solo artist, his time with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, he’s more than equipped to put out an album that’s both musically and lyrically diverse.
Blues Funeral was recorded in Los Angeles with Alain Johannes, who’s known most notably as a solo artist and Queens of the Stone Age collaborator. The album features guest appearances by Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs, Jack Irons of The Wallflowers, and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme.
“The Gravedigger’s Song” quickly kicks off Blues Funeral with a steady, thumping bass, pounding drums and wailing guitars. “Bleeding Muddy Water” slows the tempo down to a somber funeral procession that flows well into “Gray Goes Black.” Lanegan sings “Please don’t turn off my radio / Not with the rope still swinging / While eternity’s mouth is singing” in his trademark gravelly voice. “St. Louis Elegy” continues the procession with Lanegan crooning “I hear the winter will cut you quick / If tears were liquor I’d have drunk myself sick” over backing vocal harmonies, a steady rhythm section and reverb-jangled guitar.
Next up is the hard-rocking “Riot In My House.” While the tempo remains similar to the last three songs, this track is one of the heaviest on the album, musically. “Ode To Sad Disco” is by far the strangest track on Blues Funeral. The use of a synthesizer feels out of place at first, but by the end of the track it’s apparent that Lanegan hasn’t lost any of his innovation over the years. “Phantasmagoria Blues” has a hopeful air about it, despite its dark lyrical content (“Thought I’d rule like Charlemagne / But I’d become corrupt / Now I crawl the promenade / To fill my empty cup.”) Album closer “Tiny Grain Of Truth” is where the funeral procession finally comes to a halt. It’s a seven-minute long send off to what Lanegan has built up over the course of 12 songs.
Mark Lanegan has accomplished something truly magnificent with Blues Funeral. His combination of rock, blues, country, gospel, and even synth music doesn’t fail to impact the listener. The lyrical themes of despair, conflict, love, sorrow, death, and hope combine with Lanegan’s musical prowess perfectly. He’s a musician who refuses to let complex music become irrelevant in an era that’s overwhelmingly flooded with easily forgettable pop. It’s albums like this that will live on long after we’re all six feet in the ground.