It's possible to sound unique. It's possible to sound like many things. But is it possible to sound like many things while sounding unique?
Mark Lanegan appears to be going through a bit of an identity crisis on Here Comes That Weird Chill, an 8-song EP meant to tease his audience with outtakes from the forthcoming full-length of the same name. A former member of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan receives musical assistance from Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme, tying together the triangle of now-separate but former Queens. His "band" inclusive of several other respected musicians (Dean Ween, Greg Dulli), Lanegan has further pushed his six-album solo career with a release that draws upon the sounds of neo-legends and faded stars alike.
Though the album opens with single "Methamphetamine Blues," an industrial, blue-collar track that brings to mind Tom Waits' cover of "Heigh Ho!" his cover of Captain Beefheart's "Clear Spot" sounds like a mix of Sheryl Crow's "A Change Would Do You Good" and Joan Osbourne's "Right Hand Man." How odd that female icons of the mid-'90s would pop up while listening to the ideal soundtrack for a day of working in a coal mine. If only I had a cave in which to use my pick-axe.
The EP demonstrates Lanegan's rough, epitome-of-a-man voice, but increasingly slows a bit and includes one obvious ballad, "Lexington Slow Down." This song, though potentially touching for intense Lanegan fans, tries too hard on an emotional scale. It has a certain American essence about it, and most accurately put, recalls Springsteen as if he were attempting a soft gospel ballad while accompanied on piano. Although the song could provide the background music for a beer commercial or even a re-election ad for George W. Bush (the latter would work particularly well with the line "Spare me a chance / I've wasted mine"), it's probably not something you'd want to hear while driving through a city or making love to your sweet old lady. Unless you and said lady like rock ballads, of course.
This record has a personality of its own and wants to become something great, and while undoubtedly solid, it is also less than completely original. In fact, Lanegan's record label, Beggars Group, subtly agrees: " ... title track 'Methamphetamine Blues' is Mr. Lanegan at his most inspired and inventive." This is where reading between the lines comes in -- "inspired" meaning, "Hello, my name is Mark Lanegan, and I sound like Tom Waits, so I thought, Hey, why not steal a bigger piece of his essence as well?" and "inventive" meaning "bizarre mixture of musical styles." Whatever works, right?
Here Comes That Weird Chill has its redeeming qualities, though Lanegan will be best off if his upcoming LP has the quirk of "Methamphetamine Blues" bursting throughout it. Then again, George W. does have some campaigning to do.
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