Mark Lanegan may well be the hardest working man in show business since the new millennium dawned, which isn’t bad considering that when he appeared with Queens Of The Stone Age back at the turn of the century, it was rumoured that he couldn’t manage to sing more than a handful of songs per night. Even so, that incarnation of QOTSA was quite comfortably the best, making some notorious badass music until Josh Homme perversely disbanded them.
Since moving on, Lanegan has worked with distinction with a wide range of artists most notably with Soulsavers and in his partnership with Isobel Campbell. He also teamed up periodically with fellow grunge survivor ex-Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli, recently in the excellent Gutter Twins, where he worked with multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. And that brings us to this record 'Black Pudding', which is the high water mark to date of Lanegan’s prolific post-QOTSA output.
Lanegan has developed a distinctive, laid-back, gloomy style and that doesn’t vary too much here. His lyrics, too, remain of an exceptionally high standard, always probing and pushing, telling tales from the dark side of the tracks. But the icing on the cake is the musical contribution of Duke Garwood.
The album opens and closes with two instrumental guitar pieces, which really set the tone for some varied and impressive music, showing both virtuosity and scope. The songs are beautifully written and the arrangements are even better, with a superbly layered production that’s dense yet startlingly clear.
Early songs such as 'Pentacostal' and 'Mescalito' are standouts, but they’re all consistently good. You may recall that one of my recommended Record Store Day gems was this duo’s 'Cold Molly', which proved elusive in vinyl form, but thankfully that too can be found here, although it stands somewhat apart stylistically.
Unusually these days, this is an album that starts well and just gets better and better. The trio of 'Death Rides a White Horse' (terrific opening - "cut your midnight black hair, and roll you in the dirt"), 'Thank You' and the aforementioned 'Cold Molly' lies in wait near the end, shaking you out of any feeling that you’d got the album figured out.
I’m not sure whether the description ‘understated tour de force’ is an oxymoron or not, but it fits 'Black Pudding' exactly. It’s right near the top of my album of the year list already, and it’s a real pleasure to see Mark Lanegan find a partner in Duke Garwood who can absolutely draw the best out of him.
'Black Pudding' is available to purchase at amazon.co.uk, etc. Find more info at heavenlyrecordings.com.