Mark Lanegan Band — Somebody’s Knockin (18th Oct., 2019)
Birth name: Mark William Lanegan
Also known as: Kid Eastwood
Born: November 25, 1964, Ellensburg, Washington, U.S.
Origin: Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Location: Ellensburg, Washington ~~ Los Angeles, California, United States
Genre: Electronic Rock, Grunge
Album release: 18th October, 2019
Record Label: Heavenly Recordings
01. Disbelief Suspension 3:16
02. Letter Never Sent 3:32
03. Night Flight to Kabul 3:30
04. Dark Disco Jag 3:56
05. Gazing from the Shore 3:43
06. Stitch It Up 3:03
07. Playing Nero 4:17
08. Penthouse High 6:24
09. Paper Hat 4:28
10. Name and Number 3:40
11. War Horse 2:51
12. Radio Silence 4:03
13. She Loved You 5:30
14. Two Bells Ringing at Once 4:49
by Sam Shepherd, published: 14 Oct 2019. Score: ★★★★½
♣ With such a significant back catalogue behind him, it’d be all too easy to assume what a new Mark Lanegan album would sound like. Over the years we’ve come to expect those grizzled vocals to ride roughshod over a backing of introspective folk or to add a touch of whisky soaked authenticity to a squall of desert~fried rock.
♣ The first two tracks of Somebody’s Knocking do little to suggest that anything has changed since his last effort, Gargoyle. Disbelief Suspension and Letter Never Sent both rumble along with the familiar sound that we’ve come to expect from Lanegan, but then things start to change. The signs are there in the opening salvo of Somebody’s Knocking with the disconcerting synth swells, the slightly icy guitar licks and the drum sound, but it’s not until Night Flight To Kabul that everything starts to come into sharp focus. The drum intro calls to mind the production of Duran Duran, whilst the rumbling bass and simple but incisive guitar lines come direct from the rain soaked streets of Manchester that Joy Division once inhabited.
♣ Lanegan has looked back into his past love of European Electronic music and coupled that to current listening habits to inform the sound of Somebody’s Knocking. The result is an album that retains the heft of his more rock oriented efforts (and there’s still a fair amount of that here) and attempts to cut a new furrow by incorporating the sounds that continue to influence its creator.
♣ Those wanting the pedal down moments of exhilaration will not be disappointed, the likes of Stitch It Up flash by with the kind of energy that Iggy Pop and MC5 possessed in their prime (and to be fair, still possess). Lanegan hasn’t sacrificed any of his directness in order to channel these new influences at all. As usual, his love of the music that excites him shines through and makes the album a complete success.
♣ Dark Disco Jag is every bit as foreboding as its title suggests. Stripped back completely to the bare bones, its pulsing beat and echoing guitars provide a swirling darkened space for Lanegan to inhabit as he sings of blood on lips and bruises on hips. It’s entirely in thrall to Joy Division, but isn’t a mere facsimile, there’s an inventiveness here, even on a song so simplistic in its construction.
♣ On Penthouse High, he drawls “Don’t step inside this house”. Whilst the sentiment is entirely at odds with Primal Scream’s call to Acid House abandon, Slip Inside This House, the series of electronic blips, the simplistic keyboard motif and basic kick drum beat suggests that there’s actually not very much difference between the two songs. There might be ghosts inhabiting Lanegan’s penthouse, but it’s entirely likely that they’re there to party. That he also alludes to Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds (he’s caught in a trap) and pulls on New Order for influences suggests that he’s throwing everything into the mix this time around.
♣ Lyrically, Lanegan straddles the line between reality and a dreamlike otherworld. This is an album populated by ghosts and hazy imagery. He’s dripping acid from the dropper on the opening track, by the time he’s wandering the desert in a paper hat (the suitably woozy Paper Hat) he’s conjuring up images of Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat and Jesus. Elsewhere, there’s a red headed demon, harlequins, King David and Dionysus.
♣ At one point on War Horse Lanegan declares that he’s stoned and sacrilegious, and that’s a fairly accurate summation of the album as a whole. There are serious points and subject matter across Somebody’s Knocking, with the state of the world at the moment, how could there not be, but Lanegan is careful to infuse his songs with metaphor and classical reference points, making an intriguing mix of imagery and rhetoric that requires thought and immersion to untangle.
♣ Somebody’s Knocking is the sound of someone viewing the world and not quite believing whether or not any of this can possibly be real. The events of the last few years might feel like an acid trip because it’s all too crazy to be true. The feelings of isolation that Lanegan has channeled into his music and lyrics are beautifully served by the influences that he’s using, and the result is an album that feels both current and historical. Most importantly, it’s another absolute masterclass crammed with songs that drill their way into your head and stay there.
★ Heavenly Recordings are thrilled to announce Somebody’s Knocking, the new 14~track album from Mark Lanegan Band, released 18th October and available to preorder here. To celebrate the release Lanegan has shared a hilarious video for first single “Stitch It Up” in which he also stars. Of the video Lanegan says: “I had a blast making this video. We had some friends over for dinner and Joe Cardamone met Donal Logue there and they hit it off. When I later talked to Joe about directing a vid he immediately said “Jimmy The Cab Driver” I called Donal and he laughed for like ten minutes and was totally into it. My head was pounding from laughing so hard the day of the shoot. It was extremely tough to keep a straight face when Donal was in character, he turned into an updated version of Jimmy so fast. Both Joe and Donal are brilliant. There’s a reason it’s the first video of mine I’ve been in for the last 15 years.”
★ From the opening bars of Disbelief Suspension onwards, it’s clear that Somebody’s Knocking is an album made by someone deeply obsessed with how music — with all its primal, spiritual healing power — truly penetrates the soul. As a result, there’s joy in the music, as if created from a perfect set of inspirations smashed and grabbed from God’s own record shop.
★ Some of the influences are oblique, others direct and fully respectful. From the Raw Power~esque garage metal grind of that opener to Letter Never Sent’s rocket~powered take on Love~era kaleidoscope~psych, through the pensive subterranean murk of Dark Disco Jag and on to Playing Nero’s sun~bleached riff on Joy Division’s Atmosphere, there’s the glee of infatuation running deep in the tracks. And, in some ways, that display of infatuation serves to change the very perception of Lanegan the artist — this album being less the tale of a brooding, crepuscular rock’n’roll veteran and more that of someone consumed by a lifelong love of words and sound fused together.
★ With that perception shift in mind, one of the most remarkable moments on Somebody’s Knocking is Penthouse High — a track that positively blooms, sounding like a love letter to imperial phase New Order. For Lanegan, it signals a return to one of his formative musical loves from a time even before he joined Screaming Trees.
★ “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” he says. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written Penthouse High for Gargoyle (the 2017 album the Guardian stated saw “Lanegan in the form of his career”) but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time — a blatantly catchy, old~school dance~type song.”
★ Although Somebody’s Knocking came together in an eleven day session in L.A. (Lanegan’s hometown of the last twenty two years), many of the deepest musical influences on the record are European — be they the aforementioned electronic artists or newer, murkier forms provided by
writing partners Martin Jenkins (who records as Pye Corner Audio) Sietse van Gorkom who co~wrote 7 tracks including first single ‘Stitch It Up’, or Rob Marshall — a collaborator on Gargoyle and on his own, forthcoming debut album as Humanist. In each case, Lanegan approached working with each of the writers from the perspective of a fan.
★ Lyrically, Somebody’s Knocking sets the listener off down multiple rabbit holes, painting deeply psychedelic pictures where someone’s “drip, drip, dripping acid out of the dropper” (Disbelief Suspension) or where “the hounds are behind me/footsteps following/you know you can’t find me/I’m miles from the crime scene” on the monumentally addictive Stitch It Up.
★ While on the whole, interpretations are left for the listener to decide on, there are aspects of the real world that can’t help but seep subconsciously into Lanegan’s songs: “It seems to me that the entire world is in a weird, precarious place right now. I try to not be someone in a constant state of worry and alarm but watching the massive divide that is taking place and the political situations, especially in the US and UK makes me think, “what the fuck are these idiots thinking?” The hatred, racism and all this other fear~driven shit, these “adults” that continually drive the machine that perpetuates this ignorance to their own ends should all be in prison cells instead of the non~violent drug “offenders” in them now. I can’t specifically say how any of this effects my writing but I know that most of the things that occupy my thoughts have a way of coming back out in a song.”
★ At the end of the day though, Somebody’s Knocking doesn’t need to be either commentary or allegory. Like Lanegan’s best work, it tells its own stories and weaves its own wonders, conjuring up feverish hallucinogenic visions to sit atop roughly hewn rock and glassy, brilliant bright electronics. And then it leaves them to penetrate their own ways right down to our deepest, darkest roots.