Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Mark Lanegan — the name conjures visions of smoky back rooms, tumblers filled with whiskey, songs reflecting on dark beauty, and the dirtier side of life. As such, the title of his latest release Bubblegum took me off guard. On this, his first full-length in three years, Lanegan contradicts any thought of sugary confections by combining equal parts restrained introspection, gritty blues, and reverb-laden rock. He scatters occasional flirtations with subtle pop stylings here and there {as in the radio-friendly "Hit The City"}, but, on the whole, Bubblegum proves to be much richer stuff than the name suggests.

The album begins with "When Your Number Is Up," a dark and brooding track describing a lonely, dimly lit death scene. Lanegan's smoke-stained vocals, more spoken word than song, dominate over muted bluesy keyboards and a slow, faded drum beat. From there, the album unfolds its patchwork, a clear reflection of Lanegan's penchant for musical collaboration. A wide variety of artists took part in the evolution of Bubblegum including PJ Harvey, Greg Dulli, Dean Ween, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan from GNR/Velvet Revolver, Queens of the Stone Age bandmates Joshua Homme and Nick Oliveri. The overarching vision, however, firmly belongs to Lanegan. The contributions of these artists enhance Lanegan's well-established abilities, resulting in an album far greater than the sum of its parts.

The most striking combination is easily that of Lanegan and PJ Harvey, as evidenced in "Hit the City" {a midtempo track that chugs along through a sea of reverb} and the intimately brooding "Come To Me." Harvey's vocals prove the perfect match to Lanegan's distinctive style — breathy and pure, her voice exquisitely complements his in this sparingly elegant duet.

On first listen, Bubblegum feels almost too heady to be listened to at one go. Each song must be savored individually rather than consumed ravenously. The variance in style and tempo from track to track gives an unexpected and welcome diversity to the album, all securely bound together by Lanegan's matchless vocals. Of especial note is "Head," a song intensely reminiscent of the well-loved song "All I Know" from Lanegan's days with Screaming Trees — only this time, the track is reworked with edgy guitars and industrial rhythms. "Bombed" offers up a brief and delicate interlude, a hushed acoustic lullaby of tenderness and disquiet. "Out of Nowhere" offers a perfect conclusion to the album. With its gently ominous Southwestern motif, you can almost see gunfighters appearing in hacienda archways for a showdown of Robert Rodriguez proportions. With its dark intensity and masterfully crafted songs, Bubblegum affirms Mark Lanegan's prowess as both songwriter and musician. It's a delight to hear this latest incarnation of his talents and leaves me wondering where he'll lead his listeners next.