Mark Lanegan has become something of an alt-rock Lee Hazlewood these days, lending his gravel-choked, Tom Waits-meets-Captain Beefheart-on-a-bender vocals to various artists in need of the doom-laden Americana gravitas he so powerfully exudes. His voice and a vibe have helped to carry such albums as Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age and Isobel Campbell’s Ballad of the Broken Seas to commercial and critical success. Now, with the English electronica duo Soulsavers, he’s helped craft one the finest albums of 2007.
It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land melds the country-soul of Lanegan’s early solo discs with the down-tempo, ambient electronica of the Soulsavers, then bathes them both in cathartic swathes of gospel shouting. Dark and harrowing, the songs are pleas for redemption and forgiveness, alternately howled and crooned by Lanegan (who has never sounded so vulnerable, nor human) to a silent god, while the Soulsavers emit dusky, minimalist beats that alternately slither and throb through widescreen cineramas of Ennio Morricone-esque soundscapes.
“Revival,” the best song the Verve never wrote, opens the disc with a pounding, insistent beat as Lanegan’s voice is carried forward by the crashing waves of a gospel chorus; a cover of Neil Young’s “Through My Sails” evolves from the original’s laidback acoustic balladry into a blurred reverie of late-night despair tinged with hope; and the album closing remake of the Stones’ “No Expectations” trades in Mick and company’s insouciant ennui for a hymn-like search for salvation amid the sonic landscape of ghostly Death Valley ambience.
In an era of ring-tone-ready disposable pop, Lanegan and the Soulsavers have managed to create music that transcends simple pastiche or product, that takes the tar-black introspection of a desperate drive into the desert night and transforms it into something that glows with an eerie beauty and crosses into the twilight outlands of true art. Redemption, even — which may, in the end, be the same thing.