Mark Lanegan

The news of Mark Lanegan’s passing in 2022 at the age of 57 was a terrible shock well beyond his closest personal circles, a shock underscored by the fact that so much of his life and work felt like, as one comment that circulated after his passing put it, spitting in the face of death. As pitilessly, if darkly hilariously, detailed in his 2020 autobiography Sing Backwards and Weep, his experiences in the 1980s and 1990s grappling with addiction and how they impacted so much of his personal and professional life were harrowing to say the least, while his late 2021 book Devil in a Coma detailed his struggles with a destructive bout of COVID as that pandemic raged. 

Regrets that there wouldn’t be remarkable work from him in the future were manifold, but given his awe-inspiring body of work as a singer and songwriter both in his own right and in the form of multiple collaborations in both rock contexts and beyond, it was more appropriate to note that he’d already had striking creative arcs many times over, many running simultaneously. While Lanegan had long gained understandable creative comparisons to Nick Cave as a hellhounds-on-my-trail singer steeped in American roots music and the early decades of rock and roll, in terms of his breadth of interests and reach, perhaps it’s even truer to say that he was America’s Marc Almond, inspired by the past in many ways but still artistically restless and driven to see what more could be done in the here and now as well.

The core of Lanegan’s art lay not only in his gift for vivid lyrical imagery but his remarkable vocal abilities, combining a rough-edged but rarely ragged baritone with a warm ease in exploring what he sung, changing emphasis and pitch to land the performances, whether using his words or another’s. Screaming Trees, the group that first made his name, had their breakthrough moment after almost a decade together when their song “Nearly Lost You” became a notable US video and alternative radio hit in the early nineties, its appearance on the Singles soundtrack associating them with a Seattle scene they’d been almost on a parallel line with rather than fully in the mix of. By that point, Lanegan had already begun his own solo career with 1990’s The Winding Sheet, and as Screaming Trees fitfully continued forward through the decade, Lanegan made it through some of his worst years personally while creating a series of striking albums for the Sub Pop label, as well as taking guest vocal turns with many other artists and acts. 

That creative breadth led to a new kind of breakout moment when he was a key guest singer and songwriter for Queens of the Stone Age in the 2000s both in studio and live, while new creative collaborations ranged from singing songs by and with Belle and Sebastian member Isobel Campbell to joining the electronic/rock act Soulsavers for a couple of albums as their lead singer to a full duo partnership with an equally powerful vocalist, the Afghan Whigs’s Greg Dulli, as the Gutter Twins. Lanegan’s general overdrive continued steadily into the 2010s as he explored everything from electronic and synth arrangements to powerful rock stomps and more besides, whether on his own, working with others or collaboratively, all while working towards and finally achieving the sobriety that helped to give him much-needed balance and peace. It made his end all the more heartfelt of a loss, but the music, reaching well beyond his own albums and major collaborations to seemingly innumerable singles, EPs and one-off tracks, compilation contributions and further guest appearances, remains a striking testament to his talent.

Ballad of the Broken Seas cover

In one of the most inspired musical partnerships of the early 21st century, Isobel Campbell first recruited Mark Lanegan to appear on her 2004 EP Time Is Just The Same, leading to a full album two years later with Ballad of the Broken Seas, which became a major critical hit. Working from music and some initial lyrics by Campbell, the two, along with a solid group of backing players, created a series of smoky, involving songs, nodding to plenty of roots (as with a great cover of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man”) but finding their own elegant late night vibe.

Field Songs cover

2001’s Field Songs was a new step forward all around for Mark Lanegan, with his voice showing an even greater range than ever and the music incorporating more styles and approaches from all around the world; he later considered it one of his overall best. Field Songs has another killer set of collaborators, with Mike Johnson and Ben Shepherd as the main guitarists, but on dramatic songs like “Field Song” and “No Easy Action” as well as sweetly-sung ballads as “Pill Hill Serenade” and “Kimiko’s Dream House,” it’s all about Lanegan’s wondrous performances.

Imitations cover

Mark Lanegan’s second all-covers album was a sequel in more ways than one to the earlier I’ll Take Care Of You, sharing a producer in Martin Feveyear plus many of the musicians. Imitations is an elegant continuation of the overall aesthetic, combining both classic pop and country songs from past decades with a few newer tracks, including a remarkable version of Nick Cave’s “Brompton Oratory.” Of the classics, “Pretty Colors” and “Solitaire” are perfect for him, while his interpretation of Nancy Sinatra’s James Bond theme “You Only Live Twice” is exquisite.

Black Pudding cover

Mark Lanegan first worked with Duke Garwood when the latter was part of the touring Gutter Twins lineup; a further listen to Garwood’s solo work led Lanegan to propose a full collaboration recorded with some extra assistance by another Lanegan compatriot, Alain Johannes. The resultant Black Pudding, with Lanegan handling vocals and Garwood the music, is a strong collection, Lanegan’s always involving voice aiming for moving understatement, the overall feeling being an intimate, overheard jam session of stark, haunting and haunted songs.

Broken cover

Building on Mark Lanegan’s notable performances for their second album, on their third, 2009’s Broken, Soulsavers essentially made Lanegan their full collaborator on nearly every track, with other guest singers including Red Ghost, Gibby Haynes, Jason Pierce and Mike Patton. But Lanegan’s wonderful voice and cowriting dominate on an album extending the electronic blues grooves of earlier work, whether it’s the snarling guitar on the nightclub-in-hell of “Death Bells” or striking covers of songs by the Palace Brothers, Gene Clark and Lanegan himself.

Blues Funeral cover

Lanegan’s first full solo album since Bubblegum, though like that record credited to the Mark Lanegan Band and done with the help of many guests, 2011’s Blues Funeral grew out of a near-death experience and his eventual recovering of his creative spark, resulting in one of his most memorable efforts. With an emphasis on sounds and styles drawing from his deep love of early 80s UK and US postpunk and underground scenes, the often electronically-driven songs give Lanegan’s always compelling vocals new settings to work with to astonishing effect.

Saturnalia cover

Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli worked on and off on what became their sole album as the Gutter Twins for about five years, but the release of Saturnalia showed it was well worth the wait. Lanegan’s guest singing on the Twilight Singers’ album She Loves You already had showed that the two clicked creatively; as the Gutter Twins the blend of their passionate yet distinctly different voices, along with Dulli playing a slew of instruments along with the help of numerous guests, resulted in killer songs like the moody click of “Who Will Lead Us” or the building fire of “God’s Children.”

Gargoyle cover

Mark Lanegan’s 2017 solo album, again using the Mark Lanegan Band name to cover a variety of backing musicians, was one of his most energetic, concentrated efforts; with longtime collaborator Alain Johannes and newer compatriot Rob Marshall providing most of the music, it’s no pep fest but it absolutely burns with power. Gargoyle’s lead single “Beehive” was one of Lanegan’s strongest 2010s songs, a dark shimmy with driving drums from Jack Irons, but plenty of other cuts like the slamming “Nocturne” and the stirring “Old Swan” are equally sharp.

Bubblegum cover

2004’s Bubblegum was Mark Lanegan’s first release as the Mark Lanegan Band, a slight flag of convenience for what was even more of a superstar backing crew than ever, from P. J. Harvey to Izzy Stradlin and back again, including Queens of the Stone Age compatriots Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri. Yet Lanegan’s sheer presence always holds the spotlight over another set of varied, astonishing songs, from spare ruminations to full-bodied rock drama, shot through with lyrics capturing the end of his marriage to Wendy Rae Fowler, who also appears throughout.

Downwelling cover

After first introducing the Dark Mark moniker for a self-released Christmas EP in 2012, Mark Lanegan brought it back years later for some collaborative work with electronic musicians, beginning with Alessio Natalizia aka Not Waving on their album Downwelling. Natalizia’s focused, precise compositions, with hints of everything from Harmonia to offerings on Mego, provide a strong base for Lanegan’s always moving singing, now feeling even more like a human ache amid technology on songs like “Burn Out Babylon” and “Persimmon Tree.”

Hawk cover

The last of the three collaborative albums by Campbell and Lanegan, Hawk sees the partnership off with another fine collection of songs, once again nearly all written by Campbell with the exception of two Townes van Zandt covers, “Snake Song” and “No Place To Fall.” The sheer intimacy out of the gate of their harmonized duet on “We Die and See Beauty Reign” is remarkable, and hearing their often understated voices do elaborate dances around each other on songs like “Time of the Season” or the slinky “Come Undone” is simply a delight.

The Winding Sheet cover

With an emphasis on acoustic arrangements, Mark Lanegan’s 1990 solo debut The Winding Sheet was next level right from the opening notes. Lanegan, with smokier, warmer vocals than ever, created a series of moving, emotional and dramatic songs like the title track, “Woe,” “Museum” and “Wild Flowers.” His killer backing band included Mike Johnson on guitar, Jack Endino on bass, Trees bandmate Mark Pickerel on drums and Steve Fisk on organ and piano – and, notably, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic on Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.”

Straight Songs Of Sorrow cover

It wasn’t the last album he released – his collaboration with Skeleton Joe emerged in late 2021 – but 2020’s Straight Songs of Sorrow, released as a companion piece to his autobiography Sing Backwards and Weep, was Mark Lanegan’s final solo effort before his passing two years later. Backed as ever by a wide range of musician friends, Lanegan’s main instrumental contribution was on a slew of different electronic keyboards, lending his songs, as always defined by his never-less-than-astonishing voice, an often ethereal, uneasy beauty.

Anthology: SST Years cover

Not quite a summary of the band’s earliest days – in keeping with the subtitle, there are no selections from their first album ClairvoyanceAnthology is still a well-chosen overview of the Screaming Trees as they steadily built up both a catalog and a reputation in the 80s indie rock underground. Mark Lanegan’s more youthful voice has a bit of the crag of his later years if not the full pathos, but he’s an engaging frontman regardless, while Gary Lee Connor’s hooky guitar work and the Van Connor/Mark Pickerel rhythm section results in solid garage/psych grooves.

Songs for the Deaf cover

With Rated R having become a legit hit, Queens of the Stone Age had expectations for their followup and Songs for the Deaf matched if not exceeded them. Presented as a shaggy-dog concept album about radio stations on a Southern California road trip, it was a blasting collection of tight and hooky as hell heavy rock rampages. Dave Grohl did a memorable guest turn on drums, while Rated R guest Mark Lanegan took on another key role, co-writing the smash hit “No One Knows” among other credits and taking lead vocals on several other songs.

It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land cover

Soulsavers’ second album found the downtempo duo shifting their approach a bit; while Josh Haden had been an intriguing choice as the main singer for their debut, on It’s Not How Hard You Fall they started working with an even more remarkable vocalist, Mark Lanegan. The result was an electro/blues/rock fusion of fine quality, with stately arrangements and an elegant flow; Lanegan delivered strong singing throughout, also dueting with other guests like Will Oldham, P. W. Long and, on a remake of Lanegan’s own “Kingdoms of Rain,” Jimi Goodwin of Doves.

Dust cover

It wasn’t the full end of Screaming Trees, as the much later collection of unreleased tracks Last Words showed, but with Dust the band reached the conclusion of its album run as the subsequent tour, a long hiatus and abortive 2000 reunion showed. Dust remains a remarkable effort nonetheless, a summation of the roots/garage/psych approach that the group made its own, with good production from George Drakoulias. “Halo of Ashes” starts off with that full fusion in effect, while the soaring “Sworn and Broken” and the bright “Make My Mind” are also winners.

Whiskey For The Holy Ghost cover

On Lanegan’s second solo album he reunited with a key collaborator from his first, Mike Johnson, who brought along J Mascis with him to play drums on a couple of songs. Tad Doyle, Screaming Trees vet Mark Pickerel and Mudhoney’s Dan Peters also did some turns on the seat and with various other guests Lanegan created another strong set of vivid and moody songs. The opening twang and atmosphere of “The River Rise” sets the scene while “Riding the Nightingale” and “Shooting Gallery” are stunningly beautiful tracks Lanegan’s singing enriches.

I’ll Take Care of You cover

With another varied backing crew, once again with Mike Johnson but also many Screaming Trees bandmates past and present as well as Los Lobos member Steve Berlin, Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd and keyboardist/producer Martin Feveyear, in 1999 Mark Lanegan released his first collection of covers, I’ll Take Care of You. By then Lanegan’s vocals had reached a new depth and richness, and in tackling tracks by everyone from Tim Hardin and Brook Benton to Buck Owens and Jeffrey Lee Pierce he delivered commanding, deeply felt interpretations.

Sweet Oblivion cover

Whether it was due to Mark Lanegan’s exploration of his vocal range on his solo debut The Winding Sheet, the arrival of Barrett Martin on drums, working out the earlier major label jitters or just pure talent, luck and fate in combination, on Sweet Oblivion Screaming Trees put it all together to create one of the early nineties’ strongest rock albums, hands down. “Nearly Lost You” became the hit and standard, but from the uncoiling power of the opener “Shadow of the Season” to the steady flow of “Winter Song” and the kick of “Butterfly,” it’s simply a treat all the way through.