Mark Lanegan came to prominence in the Nineties with his band Screaming Trees, a group that melded metal, rock, and the blues in a loud and truly innovative way. Sadly, like many bands of the era, personality conflicts and substance abuse problems would eventually destroy the band. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Lanegan’s had a solo career that not only outshines his original claim to fame, but also moves far, far away from it sonically. Has God Seen My Shadow: An Anthology 1989-2011 eschews Lanegan’s post-Screaming Trees collaborative projects and focuses on Lanegan’s varied and extensive solo discography.
Lanegan solo can be classified in one way; dark. Stripped-down, bare, and often lethargic in tone, his solo work has been a study in simplicity and minimalism. After all, when you have a creative muse like his and a voice like his, you really don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Presented in (mostly) reverse chronological order, and starting with his 2004 album Bubblegum, this collection weaves in and out of a sound that is at ones haunting and reassuring; cold, yet warm. “Mirrored,” a b-side from 2004, serves as a primer for the rest of the record. It’s a pained love song, but yet, the tenor of his voice makes the song feel oddly comforting, and the minimalist accompaniment only adds an oddly cold warmth to the song. It’s only on “Mockingbirds,” from his first solo record, The Winding Sheet, that one hears anything remotely Screaming Trees-like; considering the record came about during one of the band’s numerous break-ups, it’s not necessarily surprising.
The chronology is altered towards the end of the compilation in order to assure that Lanegan’s most powerful, most emotional song concludes the set. In retrospect, 1994’s Whiskey For The Holy Ghost feels like a prophetic obituary for the “grunge scene.” The final song, “The River Rise,” was utilized in a powerful way in 1996 documentary Hype!, where it is used during the portion of the film regarding the death of his friend and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The song asks the question, “Is this worth drowning, Is this worth trying,” and the concluding line, “I could fall like a tear ’cause there’s nothing else I could do,” makes the finality of Cobain’s decision even more painful. (It should be noted that this album was released in January of 1994, well before Cobain’s death.)
Disc two of this collection offers a dozen unreleased numbers, live recordings, and demos, focusing mainly on the last decade. Two excellent covers–a live recording of Jackson C. Frank‘s “Blues Run The Game” and John Cale’s “The White Cloud,” are definite highlights, as is “Halcyon Daze,” which dates from 2002. The only real complaint to be had with this material is that, at 35 minutes, it feels woefully short!
Will Mark Lanegan go down as a modern day Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or Nick Cave? It’s very possible–and for good reason, too. Has God Seen My Shadow? serves that case quite well, and is an essential collection from one of America’s most underrated talents.
Categories: Album Reviews