“I need something to help me chase the Devil away”: Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio (2014)

Before he explored a more eclectic and brash sound, Mark Lanegan was establishing himself as the ‘grunge’ generation’s Johnny Cash.  Prior to a stint in Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan had released a bunch of stellar albums that explored that rich tapestry of dusty Americana.  Like Cash, his songs focussed on the darker side of town – dealing with substance abuse, facing demons, and hoping for, and sometimes getting, redemption.  While there was darkness, there was a whole lot of wry humour.  Then something done gone changed.

Here Comes That Weird Chill was an eclectic release full of sketches and scuzzy blues credited to Mark Lanegan Band.  A precursor and companion piece to the full length Bubblegum that arrived shortly after.  It took 8 years and a bunch of collaborations before he hit us with the expansive Blues Funeral; an all American gothic complete with dirges and beats.  That stuff featured a host of guest and added something extra to an already weighty catalogue.  Then within two years we were hit with Phantom Radio.  A unique record that finds our man continuing to explore the new territory while embracing the pre-Mark Lanegan Band dust.

Side A gets off to a strong start; the jangly Harvest Home being one of the strongest tracks on Phantom Radio.  However, despite coming on all early-Trees, it sounds a tad tinny and I can’t help but wish it was a bit heavier.  Perhaps ripping from the speaker.  Just like the rest of the electronic cuts here, it’s hard to really dig fully given that the sound was perfected on Blues Funeral.  And you can never really avoid comparing the material.

That said, it’s all a bit more hushed.  Songs like Floor of the Ocean and The Killing Season having an ambience and subtlety that the Blues Funeral cuts don’t – the result of some synthesised strings and shimmers of light guitar (and even flute on Seventh Day).

Side B is something else, though.  All the highlights are on there.  Moving on from the splendiferous Duke Garwood co-write, I Am The Wolf, he throws out Torn Red Heart.  A really incredible and sad love song that could have been pulled from Sinatra or Andy Williams’ songbook.  His now smooth croon is perfect here and his delivery is really spot on when he sings “you don’t love me. What’s to love anyway?”

Waltzing in Blue has a touch of Joy Division about it, too.  There’s a mournful cold haze with a nice steady sinister bass lurking underneath it.  Death Trip to Tulsa is brilliant and a great closer, but could have been the type to rattle bones. I can imagine that sucker if Lanegan had relocated to the desert.

I’ll admit to be being somewhat disappointed initially.  However, it really has grown on me to the point of being one of my favourite albums last year.  The gems are generally the pre-Lanegan Band sounding stuff and that’s been the problem.  Listen to Judgement Time.  His voice more brittle and you can hear the quiver. The Duke Garwood co-write I Am the Wolf isn’t dressed up either.  His voice and the silence between lines creating a tension.

Just the strength of the songs.

I want a whole album like that.

The dustier hypnotic Americana.

Even just as a diversion.

I really love the artwork here.  The same image is used on the remix album, but Gustavo Rimada’s art is particularly striking in red and gold.  The whole thing is really nicely presented – really swell gatefold with lyrics (for those sing-a-long moments, amaright?) and the credits.  The labels are really nice, too.

18 Comments Add yours

  1. DanicaPiche says:

    Great review, J! I’m intrigued. I already know that I like the dust, the wry and the blues. The rest sounds interesting and appealing, especially against the backdrop of the earlier material.


    1. J. says:

      Thanks Danica. I reckon it’s worth checking out. Mixed reception from folks I know and I’ve really warmed to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jprobichaud says:

    This is actually quite a good album. I’ve a notion you might really enjoy Lee Harvey Osmond. They’re a Canadian psych-folk band led by Tom Wilson, who’s got a deep, “brittle” voice not unlike Lanegan’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Oh! Interesting! Just Googled and that certainly does appeal to me – thanks for the recommendation, JP.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. jprobichaud says:

        No problem. Glad you like it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. 1537 says:

    Really enjoyed your review but, a couple tracks aside, it still hasn’t really connected with me yet. The expensive EP ‘No Bells On Sunday’ that you bullied me into buying was stronger I thought.

    My fave Lanegan is still ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’, well it is tonight anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Haha – yes, sorry about that … worth it though, eh? 😉

      I’ll Take Care Of You is a favourite of mine too. Maybe in third place on the ‘Lanegan chart’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 1537 says:

        What comes top two?


      2. J. says:

        They’d be Scraps at Midnight and Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. In that order too …

        Liked by 1 person

  4. 1537 says:

    Torn Red Heart is the one for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mikeladano says:

    This sounds awesome, really. “His voice and the silence between lines creating a tension” — that’s what I need.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Everyone needs a bit of Lanegan, Mike!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. mikeladano says:

        I agree wholeheartedly. I’m one that needs more. This sounds good for a fella like me.


      2. J. says:

        Do you have Bubblegum or Blues Funeral? If not I would say they are the Lanegan Band ones to go get. No question. This is worth investigating, though.

        Non-Lanegan Band Lanegan has to be Scraps at Midnight or Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. They’re full of all the dust and suchlike.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. mikeladano says:

        I have none of them but now I have several to check out.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. keepsmealive says:

    Oooo the precioussss… I love it! I don’t own this one but your write-up makes it clear that I need to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      It’s not quite as sprawling or spectacular as either Bubblegum or Blues Funeral, but it’s definitely worth exploring. Even if just for the artwork!


  7. 1537 says:

    And thank you for the link, Mr J. Now your readers will be able to marvel at my alternative cover/title ‘Here Comes That Weird Chili’.

    Liked by 1 person

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