Mark Lanegan possesses one of the most versatile male singing voices on our planet, capable of assimilating to desert-baked hard rock, Lee Hazlewood-style psych-country and blackened electronic pop. The former Screaming Tree has tried his hand at so many different styles of music that it adds to the anticipation of a new album. Where will he go this time?
For Phantom Radio, Lanegan doesn’t stray too far from the digital darkness that infected his last solo effort, 2012’s Blues Funeral. If anything, he and producer Alain Johannes have crystallized and improved upon the work they did on that previous record. These 10 songs have a nice luster to them even when Lanegan is plumbing his tortured mind for lyrical images.
The album is at its best when working within a beat-heavy landscape. Supposedly constructed using an iPhone app, many of the songs are built upon simple drum machine patterns that are festooned with gauzy synth and light guitar melodies and the voices of Lanegan and his female foil Shelley Brien wafting out from the shadows. There’s no denying the more minimalist moments here as well, like the pained “Torn Red Heart,” which feels like an ‘80s glitterball slow dance number viewed through three layers of textured glass, or “Judgement Time,” a track that sways on an acoustic guitar strum and the drone of a harmonium.
Lanegan is not one of those artists who will hurtle to the top of the pop charts, no matter how much Epic Records really wanted his old band to back in the ‘90s. He’s cultivated a healthy career from following his own path no matter what the commercial prospects are. Left to his own devices without any interference from outside interests, and an astounding album of dark, sultry music like this is what you get in return.