After releasing a well received seventh solo album last year and an under-the-radar collaboration with Duke Garwood earlier this year you’d expect Mark Lanegan to go into hiding for a while – after all, he took eight years between Bubblegum and Blues Funeral. The man must feel he’s on a role though as he hits the road again for Imitations a collection of covers, something most people mark as either career suicide or genius rejuvenation.
This effort falls between the two, meaning it makes no real dent in his credentials but nor will it wow audiences. These are mostly songs Lanegan heard growing up which does add a sort of elegance about their selection, there is even a nod to his buddy and some-time collaborator Greg Dulli for ‘Deepest Shade’. The pick of the bunch however has to be the bond theme ‘You Only Live Twice’ making you wonder if Lanegan might not be a brilliant, left-field choice for the next bond movie theme.
The arrangements aren’t staggering, mostly comprising of gentle strums on the acoustic with the added intimacy of hearing the rasp and grit of fingertips gliding over metal strings. The focus is that now distinct voice, something which will hold your attention even if he isn’t belting out the tunes out with any vigour. The horns on Nick Cave and the Badseeds cover ‘Brompton Oratory’ seem oddly jarring however, after all Lanegan is at his best when shrouded in darkness.
It’s hard to tell if he’s out of his comfort zone or in it with Lanegan – a man who squeezes his eyes shut when performing live – but it’s nice to see someone passionate about music enough to not care whether the songs he covers are cool or not. ‘Mack the Knife’ seems like it might be added for a lark at first but it’s clear from the ever-enchanting delivery that he’s totally serious. John Cale’s ‘I’m Not The Loving Kind’ has great zeal imbued while the recent Chelsea Wolfe ‘Flatlands’ cover might be the one song which does play into his hands, thick with imagery and pleading tones.
This isn’t the first set of covers Lanegan has put out either, it’s worth pointing out, 1999s I’ll Take Care Of You was just as odd sounding but is still worth a listen even today. In a catalogue of slow burning greatness this won’t be a highlight but it’s not the blot or career-ender that it could have been either. Who knows when we’ll hear the dark, gravel tones of this man again now? Another eight years perhaps?