Mark Lanegan ‘Houston (Publishing Demos 2002)’ Review: former Screaming Trees and QOTSA vocalist unearths previously unreleased solo recordings.
The latest release from whiskey voiced troubadour Mark Lanegan is an intriguing look back upon his musical past.
Houston (Publishing Demos 2002) contains previously unreleased recordings recorded over a 7-day stretch in the spring of 2002, two years after the dissolution of his pioneering alt-rock group Screaming Trees.
The album (due August 21st via Ipecac Recordings) proves a line of demarcation between 2001’s Field Songs and the one-two punch of 2003’s Here Comes That Weird Chill EP and 2004’s Bubblegum, two albums that showed a gradual evolution from laconic blues to more experimental sonic textures.
In many ways Houston splits the difference, with twelve melancholy tunes laced with cinematic overtones (fitting, given several songs were included on the soundtrack to 2009 drama Cook County).
Opener No Cross To Carry is vintage Lanegan, with Spaghetti Western guitars and piano bar keyboards augmenting his world-weary croon.
Like his work with Queens of the Stone Age, Houston conjures images of the desert: unforgiving, yet brutal, bleak yet mystical. Two Horses mines that territory well: sitar, accordion, a trademark Lanegan arpeggiated guitar line and tribal percussion provide the atmosphere for his disorienting tale: I trip on the teeth and feathers/outside the factory/my horses click their hoofs together/and caravan down through the desert…I can’t help it.
The album embraces psychedelia head on with When It’s In You (Methamphetamine Blues), a radical reworking of the more aggressively weird interpretations included on both Weird Chill and Bubblegum. Swirling tremolo guitar lines envelop washes of feedback that conjure a hypnotic spell.
The Leonard Cohen-esque Halcyon Days shows Lanegan at his most wonderfully sardonic (I’ll do my suffering tomorrow), while Nothing Much To Mention has a slow dance charm, with the singer lamenting: pack up that crystal chandelier, but leave some pink champagne on ice.
One thing that immediately jumps to attention with Houston is the splendid quality of the recording. These may be demos, but the production (by Randall Jamail), feels fully realized. Album closer Way To Tomorrow is a prime example, with surely the grimmest accordion melody ever recorded, creating an ominous din that befits Lanegan’s most beautifully tortured vocal performance on the album.
Houston will certainly intrigue Lanegan completists. While it may not plumb the harrowing depths of his darkest work, it’s an evocative, stately set of songs that feel timeless, all the more impressive given they’ve been on the shelf for 13 years.