I’m not abnormally interested in the details of Mark Lanegan’s private life, although I’m sure they’re fascinating. What Mark Lanegan does begets what Mark Lanegan does, and that’s most likely determined by the availability of Marlboro Reds. When a Magnet interviewer inadvertently tossed a grenade by asking Lanegan whether or not he had entered the studio with a blueprint for his sixth solo album, Bubblegum, Lanegan quickly employed the Socratic Method by responding with the guided question: “Am I gonna have to kick your ass?” Considering that would probably involve a cowboy boot to the ribs and a mouthful of desert dust, why not just give Bubblegum a spin.
Don’t let the title throw you off: Lanegan hasn’t gone soft or sweet. The only mention of the album title on the record is to say “when I’m bombed/ I stretch like bubblegum.” He’s traded in the spirituality of his Screaming Trees days for a death and oblivion obsession. His drone on opener “When Your Number Isn’t Up” has all the charm of Scott Peterson. P.J. Harvey shows up on a number of tracks, most notably on “Bombed,” where she trails Lanegan’s vocals perfectly to evoke some sort of hazy, drug-addled dream.
But just because Lanegan isn’t a big fan of sunshine and jelly beans doesn’t mean the album isn’t fun. He revs the engine on “Hit the City” and “Methamphetamine Blues,” the latter of which apparently features a tire-iron to keep time in lieu of the standard drum kit. “Wedding Dress” wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Johnny Cash’s American recordings, and just try not to sing along to the Cash line that ends the track.
Mark Lanegan is the coolest outsider in rock and has maintained a low profile despite his affiliation with Queens of the Stone Age and a heavy lineup on this album. Bubblegum is a slug of whiskey followed by a gun shot blast to gut. Not convinced? Don’t make me kick your ass.