Mark Lanegan’s career has been nothing if not unpredictable. Whether it’s fronting Screaming Trees, serving time with Queens Of The Stone Age or even collaborating with Belle & Sebastian’s Isobel Campbell, there’s never been any shortage of variety in Lanegan’s output. With 2012’s ‘Blues Funeral’, however, Lanegan struck on a sound that he’s stuck to ever since. That’s not to say that 2014’s follow-up album ‘Phantom Radio’ didn’t stand up in its own right, but it wasn’t the significant left turn that we’ve come to expect. Likewise, ‘Gargoyle’ doesn’t reinvent the sound that Lanegan has been exploring for the last half decade, but it does tweak it.
Awash with moody synths, clattering drum machines and twisted, eerie guitars ‘Gargoyle’ sees Lanegan take the robust, synthy alt-rock of ‘Phantom Radio’ and inject it with the shot of darkness that he’s been associated with for so long. In the process he creates an album which is both more vulnerable and more vicious than its predecessor. There are a wide range of influences clashing together on ‘Gargoyle’, often to the point of near chaos. It’s a credit to Lanegan that these inspirations actually manage to mesh. Whilst ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’ hints at ‘Pornography’-era Cure and ‘Emperor’ points to Scott Walker, ‘Drunk On Destruction’ nods at mid-nineties Bowie with superb results. A range of influences this wide could more easily than not lead to a jumbled mess, but Lanegan and band instead create a cohesive record where no track feels out of place.
‘Sister’ is a great ballad, its slow-burning bursts of synth a pleasure to behold. At five minutes it does last a little longer than it needs to, though. ‘Goodbye To The Beauty’ is genuinely gorgeous; a sumptuous, moving track and a highlight on the record. The lazy psychedelic melancholy of ‘First Day Of Winter’ is no less of a joy, with the song’s backing vocals and warm synthesizers only adding to the swirling atmosphere. For much of ‘Gargoyle’ Lanegan sticks firmly to a synth-and-electronics-heavy musical palette, largely eschewing traditional rock instrumentation for something that instead suggests a modernised take on the dark synth exploration of groups such as Cluster and Kraftwerk – albeit one far more rooted in songwriting tradition.
‘Emperor’ sees Lanegan shake things up; temporarily letting the keys gather dust in favour of a swinging guitar rock song, featuring the unmistakable talent of long-term collaborator Josh Homme on lead guitar and backing vocals. It’s unlike anything else on the album and all the better for it; a definite highlight and a reminder that, as great as Lanegan’s recent electro-centric work has been, he’s still one of the best out there at writing a rock-solid guitar song.
Though not without its surprises, those familiar with ‘Phantom Radio’ and ‘Blues Funeral’ won’t be shocked at the direction Lanegan has gone in with ‘Gargoyle’, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that the album is a great collection of songs. Though it wouldn’t have hurt to have seen one or two more tracks like ‘Emperor’, ‘Gargoyle’ is such a well written, emotive collection of songs that that really doesn’t matter. Long-term fans will need no convincing to give this album their time and new-comers, likewise, could do much worse than start here. With a discography as broad as Lanegan’s, it’s almost pointless to single out one or two records as the best but nonetheless ‘Gargoyle’ may well be his strongest effort of the last few years.
Lead Photo Credit : Eric Gabriel