No disrespect, but who would have thought that Screaming Trees alumnus Mark Lanegan would turn out to be the versatile journeyman he’s become. He’s worked with acts as different as Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell, Soulsavers, Moby, and a host of others while at the same managing a solo career. As such, you might think you know what to expect, but you truly never know what you’re going to get from Lanegan. Such is the stage set for his tenth solo album, Gargoyle (Heavenly Recordings), this one with his eponymously named band.
Still, despite all signs to contrary there is an expectation that a Lanegan record is going to be dark, with the only real questions being how dark and how loud and slow. Gargoyle may come as a surprise then. It continues in the same vein as his last album, 2014’s Phantom Radio, with electronic elements finding their way into the mix. Producer and longtime collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes also produced that album, but Gargoyle doesn’t play like a retread. Hearing a drum and bass loop start off “Drunk In Destruction” is legitimately surprising, and there’s plenty of mood and genre-jumping going around. “Beehive” sounds like a pyschedelic Echo and the Bunnymen romp, while “Emperor” is similar but with the goth elements stripped away.
Lanegan has one of the most distinctive, seemingly non-versatile voices in music, yet you can put it in any context and it just works. And as he’s gotten older, his baritone has just gotten more worn, like an old baseball glove. Johannes, as well as Josh Hommes, Greg Dull, Duke Garwood and co-writer Rob Marshall, move the pieces around Lanegan and lean into the fact that there is an no particular “Lanegan sound” other than his voice.
Any weakness of the album is not from the production or performances, but the mere fact that some songs aren’t as strong as others. For example, “Sister” never really goes anywhere, while several others feel under-baked. The bobbles don’t derail the overall quality of the album, but at a modest nine songs, there’s nowhere for them to hide. On the whole, though, Gargoyle is a solid record and an interesting chapter in the ongoing story of Lanegan.