Over the past few years, I’ve spilled a fair share of virtual ink covering Mark Lanegan, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, known as the frontman and founding member of Seattle-based grunge rock pioneers Screaming Trees, and an acclaimed solo artist, who has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists and bands — including Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on an unreleased Lead Belly cover/tribute album recorded before the release of Nevermind; as a member of the renowned grunge All-Star supergroup/side project Mad Season with Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready; as a member of Queens of the Stone Age featured on five of the band’s albums — 2000’s Rated R, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, 2007’s Era Vulgaris and 2013’s . . . Like Clockwork; with The Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins; as well as former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell on three albums. Additionally, Lanegan has contributed or guested on albums by Melisa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, Creature with the Atom Brain, Moby, Bomb the Bass, Soulsavers, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, UNKLE and others.
Last year, Lanegan released his 11th album Somebody’s Knocking. And while continuing an amazing run of critically applauded releases, the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay and grunge legend 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.”
Although Somebody’s Knocking came together during an 11 day session in Los Angeles, much of the album’s deepest musical influences are decidedly European, including the album’s two other writing partners Martin Jenkins, who records as Pye Corner Audio and the aforementioned Rob Marshall, who contribute some newer, murkier forms. Reportedly, Lanegan approached working with each of the album’s writing partners from the perspective and lens of a fan, vocalist, and interpreter.
2020 will be a momentous year for the JOVM mainstay and grunge rock legend: Lanegan’s 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 Gutter Twin collaborator Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourtand countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, a documented in his memoir.
Sing Backwards and Weep reportedly is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s unsparing and unadulterated candor 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. 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,” he chuckles. “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 realised 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.” 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. And much like the book, the album ends with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day.
Centered around atmospheric synths, strummed acoustic guitar, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is a slow-burning track that’s one part bluesy lament, one part tale of survival and redemption from life’s battered and beaten up. Interestingly, as Lanegan gets older, his vocal range inches closer to Howlin’ Wolf — a gravelly rumble that manages to convey aching despair and hard-fought and harder-won wisdom, that comes from living a messy life, full of dissolution and fuck ups. And as a result, the song may arguably the most personal song the JOVM mainstay and grunge legend had released in some time time.