Mark Lanegan – ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’ review: grunge survivor shares music that salves the soul

The former Screaming Trees frontman and Queens of the Stone Age collaborator lays himself bare on an album as viscerally honest as his new memoir

Mark Lanegan has the voice of a man who’s seen some shit – and it turns out that Mark Lanegan has indeed seen some shit. That much is evident in his new memoir, Sing Backwards And Weep, which is frank about his youthful search for “decadence, depravity, anything, everything” and refuses to flinch from the guilt he still carries around the death of his friend Kurt Cobain. (It’s also led to a bitter feud with Liam Gallagher, whom he brands an “obvious poser”.)

Writing the book was clearly a painful, painstaking process for the former Screaming Trees frontman and Queens of the Stone Age collaborator – and one which inspired him to write his 12th solo record. As befits a largely autobiographical collection of songs that looks back over his whole life, the music shifts through the variety of genres Lanegan has experimented with. At times he takes things all the way back to the straightforward singer-songwriting of his classic 1994 album ‘Whiskey For The Holy Ghost’. See, for example, the sweet, reflective ballad ‘Apples From A Tree’, which features acoustic guitar finger-picking from Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton.

Elsewhere Lanegan nods towards his electronic work – opener ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Say’ features an Organelle computer-synth and the line: “Swinging from death… to revival,” an apparent nod to ‘Revival’, the lead single from Lanegan’s wildly underrated 2007 album ‘It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land’, a collaboration with English-American production duo Soulsavers.

Sometimes memories and myth get tangled up together. The dark-as-midnight ‘Ballad of a Dying Rover’, which features Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on Mellotron, eerily recalls Lead Belly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’. Cobain and Lanegan recorded the song together, and Lanegan included it on his first solo album ‘The Winding Sheet’. Another old friend, Dylan Carlson of drone doom group Earth, is the subject of the lovely ‘Hanging On (For DRC)’, which opens: “By all rights, we should be gone  / But you and me still hanging on.”

This theme of Lanegan experiencing a sort of grunge scene survivor’s guilt is repeated on the monumental ‘Skeleton Key’, the album’s centrepiece. “I spent my life / Trying every way to die,” he notes, before asking: “Is it my fate to be the last one standing?” We should all count ourselves lucky that that role fell to a man willing to be this open and viscerally honest, and to translate it into music that salves the soul.


Release date: May 7

Record label: Heavenly Recordings

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