Baritone blues balladeer Mark Lanegan has had a long and critically acclaimed career. In his anthology, Has God Seen My Shadow?, Lanegan reveals a morose overdose of his neuroses.
Flirting with success in the Screaming Trees, and Queens Of The Stone Age, Lanegan has collaborated with a host of notable musicians including Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and even Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
Lanegan is also known for a series of fine albums with Belle & Sebastian’s erstwhile breathy chanteuse Isobel Campbell. Yet it’s another duet that is Lanegan’s finest hour on this anthology. In 2004 he teamed up with PJ Harvey to sing Come To Me – an astonishing and spine-chilling love song. The vocals complement each other perfectly in a sinister desolate lyricism – including the line “Coughing up my heart”, a line that resonates perfectly for the bereaved lover. Interestingly, the song’s lyrics also provide the inspiration for the title of this anthology.
In contrast with all this sombreness, One Way Street provides an almost upbeat element to this otherwise maudlin collection. But it’s a musical illusion. In fact, the Bourbon-infused lyrics are as darkly dour as any, and you could lay a new footpath with gravel from Langean’s voice. And it’s at this grim-humoured point in the anthology that I realised that Mark Lanegan is musically and vocally extraordinarily similar to Nick Cave. Lanegan – like Cave – majors on drug-fucked bastard blues.
Mirrored is another eerie masterpiece which appears to be about seeing yourself as a puppet reflected in the eyes of your true love. Also worth a listen is Kimiko’s Dream House, which sadly evokes a young woman’s soulless Stepfordesque/Daily Mail existence. Despite that, it’s a song that comes oddly close to sounding like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Critically though, I feel at times Lanegan tends to the solo artist’s self-indulgence and losing the plot. On some tracks, such as One Hundred Days, Lenegan strays dangerously near to sounding like Chris De Burgh.
This collection is dominated by dirges full of regret (I like dirges full of regret). And while individually, each has it’s own beauty and vigor – anthologised they threaten to become an oppressive mass. There’s a reason DVD boxsets are popular and CD boxsets were not. These tracks are like burnished jewels that need to be kept, each in separate cabinets, to be admired in the musical museum – not thrust into some Smaugish treasure mountain.
Fortunately for the chronically short of patience such as myself – the best tracks are up front (disc 1 if you like). The second half is very much take-it-or-leave-it stuff. If you’re going for a cheeky MP3 download (rather than forking out for this elaborately packaged anthology), may I recommend the number five (a dolorous 60s inspired blues song by the name of Pill Hill Serenade) number 12 (the gospelly Lexington Slow Down), the number 14(Wheels – a truly sombre track leavened with parping horns), and to follow, the number 15 (the grizzledly Neil Youngish Mockingbirds).
It’s a shame that these great tracks are somewhat diluted by trying to bring together an anthology of largely just the solo material. A more liberal career retrospective may have produced a more polished sounding piece of work.
by Rob Finch
Mark Lanegan – Has God Seen My Shadow? is released on January 13 via Light In The Attic