This Top 3 has changed so many times, it’s unbelievable. All interchangeable and all for different reasons, I think I’ve finally settled on an order that I can look at and go “yup, that’ll do”. Or I could change it all again in a hissy fit. Anyway, I’ve surprised myself a bit with having this ‘merely’ at (embolden!) Number Three, as from the first playthrough I was convinced that there would be nothing better than this. And in a way, that’s turned out to be correct, albeit in a slightly off-kilter fashion (more on that down below). And I’m actually rather glad that there are two records that have made slightly more of an impact this year, as there’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition to indicate what a year it’s been for my ears and the occasionally misfiring gelatinous mass in between.
There’s an anecdote of John Cleese’s where he describes his writing process with Monty Python partner Graham Chapman – John’s writing was frenetic and he would often get angry with Graham for apparently just sitting about, smoking his pipe and gazing somewhere off into the middle distance. But Graham wasn’t daydreaming away; he was sitting silently, soaking in all that was going on around him, waiting for his moment. So when Cleese was getting more and more exasperated about a sketch he was trying to write about returning a defective toaster, Graham sat and silently thought and carefully considered, before adding his sole contribution to the idea: “Make it a Parrot”. This is what Mark Lanegan’s laconic style of songwriting feels to me, a man who slowly takes in his surroundings and what everyone else is saying and doing before picking his own words and actions carefully and painstakingly, something that has seen him work with so many people over the past eight years since his last solo album and that has seen him successfully fit into their respective headspaces while remaining typically Mark Lanegan in doing so.
And this seems to have been a two-way process, as while he’s been adding his character to so many good and great projects, he’s also been soaking in their own traits and outlooks as he uses these new experiences to expand his horizons as he does in Blues Funeral. Much was made of an emphasis on electronic embellishments and the buzzword “Motorik” prior to release, and the first listen is something of a surprise. Ode To Sad Disco especially is something that opens eyes and drops jaws when one isn’t expecting it, but come the second listen and it feels like a perfectly natural addition to his ever-expanding oevre, just as Each To Each surprised listeners to Saturnalia before becoming (like the aforementioned Ode) a positive live favourite.
Even though the chunkier portion of a decade has passed between Bubblegum and this, there’s much to take from comparisons between that and this new one. The cover has roses growing over the non-more-black background that made up Bubblegum’s entire artwork. The dark, romantic nihilism of yore has been replaced by an ardour drawing from his own feelings rather than craven needs. And while he still prefers to hide his intentions and situations behind Black Lodge-based riddles and fire-and-brimstone apocalyptic imagery, there’s room here for the briefest of glimpses into his waking world. There’s also a comfortable sense of control that Bubblegum lacked also: a direction and purpose that gives Blues Funeral a start-to-finish sense of order opposed to Bubblegum’s wonderful collection of chaos; and when his guard is completely down as it is in Harborview Hospital, the line “and all around this place, I was a sad disgrace” is shocking in both its honesty and real-world grounding, especially when set in one of this collection’s more relaxed songs.
All of this is quite well and good and lovely, and alone would grant Blues Funeral its lofty status. But what has made this so special for me comes from the resulting live shows – I have been to several this year (see posts passim for where and how many), and each one has been special not just from the performances but from the people I’ve shared these experiences with – friends I’d not seen for ages (usually since the last time he breezed through the country), friends I never thought I’d ever get to meet, and people I bumped into randomly at the Birmingham show in a tizzy on a day when this dumb little blog found its way into the national press. It’s a record that eloquently and passionately describes its own ascension and redemption, and it’s been a thrill to follow its journey upwards.