[Release date 28.04.17]
Not being hugely familiar with Mark Lanegan’s previous output, I was able to spin this album with neither pre-conception nor expectation…and pretty impressed I was too. Straddling between the truism that “you can only objectively critique that which you love” and getting off lightly by saying “this sounds like such-and-such”, this album grows on you like pimples on a teenager.
As Lanegan himself says, he “lets the first couple of songs tell him what the next couple should sound like” and you can certainly hear that natural evolution flow through the ten tracks on “Gargoyles”. Whether it was pure maturity that has seen Lanegan progress from his early Krautrock-infused albums, or the collaboration with English songwriter, Rob Marshall, and the recruitment of long-time cohorts, Josh Homme, Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood is, I guess, kind of irrelevant because in the here and now, this is a really enjoyable album.
There is a dark, brooding timbre to Lanegan’s Iggy Pop/Lou Reed-style vocals which is warm, deep and satisfying and, as always, it’s about those three magical things – the songs, the songs and, lest we forget…..the songs. And there are some crackers here – for the “suck-it-and-see” tracks, head straight to “Blue Blue Sea”, “Beehive” (recalling a bit of The Jesus and Mary Chain ?) and “Emperor” – all as catchy as a London bus and clear testimony that a fine pop-hook is never far from Lanegan’s reach.
I have to say – largely because as a voracious music consumer, this is what I look for – if you like haunting, keys/synthesizer-driven pop a la Simple Minds, this album will get you reaching for your old eye make-up kit and poncy shirts. But defining this as “pop from nearly three decades ago” is too simplistic and would do “Gargoyles” a Trump-sized injustice. “Sister” sounds for all the world like The Cult on valium whilst “Goodbye to Beauty” is a bit U2-ish without any of the pretense (some would ask “what exactly is U2 without pretense?”).
Personally, I usually assume that track one, side one is a corker and is often followed by a strong track two. The album closer is frequently a statement of some kind so – rule of thumb – go to the middle of an album to get the cut of its overall quality. It’s almost as if Lanegan wrote these tracks with this criteria in mind – openers “Death’s Head Tattoo” and “Nocturne” both feature OMD-like electro-loops to good effect and then, undoubtedly four hit singles on the bounce….you know, back in the day when there was such a thing. I guarantee tracks from this album will show up in a popular TV series or moving film clip and you’ll be shazamming like a giant two-thumbed madman.
What will come up in your search is an album well-worth checking out – possibly the tracks do sound somewhat alike, likely to suit Lanegan’s vocal strengths but that seems petty. Some really good stuff on this album – you know it’s impressive when you get free downloads to review and you still buy the album because you feel guilty getting something that good for nothing. ***1/2
Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw
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14:00-16:00 UNDERHILL ROSE Live (indie)
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