Over the past handful of years, I’ve managed to spill a fair share of virtual ink covering acclaimed, JOVM mainstay Mark Lanegan over the years on this site. And as you may recall, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s 11th full-length solo album Somebody’s Knocking continued an incredible run of critically applauded releases but the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music. “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”
2020 will be a busy year for Lanegan: his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, as documented in his memoir.
Reportedly, Sing Backwards and Weep is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself with unsparing and unadulterated candor. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life.
“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” Lanegan says. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.” Interestingly, in press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow‘s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others.
Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. But much like the book that inspired it, the album ends with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day
So far, I’ve written about the album’s first two singles — the slow-burning, part bluesy lament, part tale of survival and redemption “Skeleton Key.” and the uptempo yet vulnerable “Bleed All Over.” The album’s third and latest single “Stockholm City Blues” is a brooding and spectral song, centered around twangy and looped guitar, a shimmering string arrangement and an achingly plaintive vocal from Lanegan. Evoking the gnawing loneliness of being a foreigner in a foreign land that you can barely understand, and of a man wandering around narrow European streets with his own thoughts and regrets, the song may arguably be one of the most sorrowful of released to date.