Accompanied by his now 12th studio record, Straight Songs Of Sorrow shined brightly with his work in Screaming Trees where he then transitioned into a solo career and became a featured member in the supergroup Mad Season, Queens Of The Stone Age, and countless other projects that soared alongside. His lyrical output was no doubt daunting, but again, was a shadowed figure that had a relatable glimpse of familiarity. His soothing rasp and often angst-filled delivery is the perfect first incision to be placed with “I Wouldn’t Want To Say” where it paints imagery of flooded riverbanks and mist to rival a Hammer horror film.
There is this castle in the distance where Lanegan sits in a leather throne, hidden behind a ratking of drum machines and other ways of production, he takes an analytical point of view. He begins to describe “I wouldn’t want to say my friend, so I’m not saying anything. You say you’ll fall, I’ll fall lower,” as the chaos of synthetic pads and waves crash against the listener like droning caresses. Lanegan on Straight Songs Of Sorrow has a reflective demeanor, but his poetic nature is harrowing and haunting on the ears here.
He takes other tracks like “Bleed All Over” as seconds where he can break away from the darkened chrysalis to provide upbeat, but still Lanegan-esque monologues. The track may seem like a more rapid Maserati, but it still comes in all black with Lanegan at the helm. He illustrates, “Baby, Baby, Baby, that’s some crazy weather. I’m out here in it alone, baby tell me now. If we can get together, you are the beacon shone,” and sculpts a marble exterior with the production.
While much of the record exists in this artificially generated soundscape, some of Straight Songs Of Sorrow’s strongest moments appear on “Stockholm City Blues” or “Ketamine” where Lanegan is isolated. Here, his vocals and an underlying bass line or simple acoustic guitar groove are the only materials necessary. Tracks like these are protruding to bring his vocals to their full potential, and while the swooping crunches are enticing, the complete package engulfs the night sky.
The ominous openings to the culminating coffins that close, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is not an entirely depressed record, but the sun doesn’t touch much of it either. Where Lanegan is half-machine and half-man, never is there a second of doubt behind his writing.
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