A curious collection of covers that works best when classic songs are stripped back to showcase Lanegan’s hauntingly powerful voice.
For a singer most regularly associated with grunge act Screaming Trees and the desert rock of Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Lanegan’s solo recordings and collaborations of the last decade have seen him wandering all over the musical landscape, lending his unique voice to everything from electronica to folk. With Imitations, Lanegan again strides out into unfamiliar territory as he covers the ’60s and early ’70s pop of his parents’ record collection.
With a few relatively recent covers thrown in, Lanegan transforms songs from crooners such as Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Andy Williams and underground icon John Cale with his typically brooding vocals. Moving so far out of his comfort zone on Imitations is a bold move by Lanegan, and occasionally it doesn’t pay off.
A handful of covers – especially Vern Gosdin’s ‘She’s Gone’ and Williams’ ‘Autumn Leaves’ – make for odd choices, as Lanegan’s vocals get buried by the orchestral nature of the songs. But these few are the exceptions as Lanegan wisely keeps things simple on most tracks, with the sparse instrumentals allowing plenty of space to showcase the depth and range of his voice.
Album opener ‘Flatlands’ – originally by Chelsea Wolfe – is a highlight, a haunting acoustic ballad in which Lanegan’s voice floats over a hazy string section. His excellent rendition of ‘Mack The Knife’ strips the song back to its bare bones, as his most gravelly vocal contribution of the album is supported only by an almost playful acoustic guitar. Nancy Sinatra’s ‘You Only Live Twice’ is another highlight, proving that Lanegan can tackle just about anything and still have the capacity to surprise.
BY KEIRON COSTELLO
Imitations is out now through Heavenly Recordings.