In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
It doesn’t seem five minutes since this, less than two years ago, with the publication of his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep seeming a good time to celebrate his apparent immunity to death. Even in a world becoming nervously aware of the pandemic, he seemed then a figure above such inconvenience, a latter-day Keith Richards made flesh, even in recovery. Little then did we know what his second volume would reveal, Devil In a Coma ripping apart that semblance, the Devil possibly in that very coma at the time of that article’s writing. I guess the assumption was that he had fully recovered from that further near-death, making last week’s news all the more astonishing and upsetting. At the time of this writing the cause of his death remains unknown. I hope he went in peace.
Not the place to regale and remind of his derring-do; others have done that better and by more right elsewhere. Here we celebrate, again, his winning way with the songs of others, his uncanny instinct to possess and inhabit the writings of other artists, as if the words had been written solely for his sepulchral tones. I don’t like the Devil comparison, however many coming up against him in their own lives might, preferring the image that he had the voice of God, with no need of any article, indefinite or otherwise. Sure, an older God, a vengeance-is-mine God, where forgiveness has to be earnt, much as he too tried to atone for his past behaviors, a forbidding God not to be taken in vain.
Hyperbole? Why not? Enjoy these ten further covers and sink one in his memory.
The Walkabouts – Feel Like Going Home (Charlie Rich cover)
For me, a perfect song and one that could almost be an epitaph. It isn’t until the halfway mark that he even enters the song, his voice seemingly emerging from a tomb, or beyond it. It would be a moving enough rendition with just Chris and Carla’s vocals, but the inclusion of Lanegan, his vocal the very definition of gravitas, is what nails it. From Satisfied Mind, the band’s 1993 album of classic covers.
Lost Satellite – No Fun (Iggy & the Stooges cover)
Possibly his last involvement, or the last released, a full near three decades after the song above it, an amiable canter through the Stooges’ paean to bleak, in the style of “Losing My Religion.” So who better to flesh out that biblical sense than old Gravelguts himself, his voice slotting underneath the lighter vocal of Alexandre Ortiz Diez , giving a solidarity as hewn as a marble headstone. This release, by the Spanish band from Seville, came out barely a month ago.
Nicole Atkins and Mark Lanegan – November Rain (Guns ‘n’ Roses cover)
Getting closer to the main billing, here is a consummate duet performance, revealing again how well the Lanegan larynx pairs with a female voice, the purer the better, to emphasis the counterintuitive frailty of his timbre. Who’d have thought Axl’s boys would translate so well into country weepie. This performance, only issued digitally, was released as a single in 2018.
Mark Lanegan – Nobody Home (Pink Floyd cover)
I am no fan of The Wall, Pink Floyd’s overblown double monster that was everywhere in 1979 into ’80, so kudos to Lanegan for stripping it back and displaying the admittedly thin charm of the song, unadorned by any effects and additions, bar the minimalist setting of his frequent right hand man, Alain Johannes. This comes from a tribute album, The Wall (Redux), also from 2018, including other acts as diverse as Sasquatch and Mos Generator. (Anybody?)
Mark Lanegan – She’s Not For You (Willie Nelson cover)
You could be thinking a distinct Americana bias sneaking in, possibly unintentionally, but, given the effortless way his weary persona fits so snug into the lyrical conceits of a country repertoire, perhaps inescapable. In fact, take away the sterling fiddle of David Krueger, and this could be mid-pace grunge, possibly the purpose of Lanegan’s inclusion in the recommended (if patchy) 1996 tribute to Willie Nelson, Twisted Willie.
Soulsavers – Blues Run the Game (Jackson C. Frank cover)
Covered by everyone and their dog, from Simon and Garfunkel through to Laura Marling and Counting Crows, this cover of “Blues Run the Game” is different from all of them. Soulsavers are the gospelly electronic brainchild of Rich Machin and, initially, Ian Glover, with a revolving door of vocal collaborators, of whom Lanegan and Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan are probably the best known. Escaping on the b-side of a single, this almost neo-classical take on Frank’s folksier song threatens not to work; it takes Lanegan’s believability with the lyric to carry it off.
Mark Lanegan – I’ll Take Care of You (Bobby “Blue” Bland cover)
Now we career back to the his solo albums with this sublime version of the soul standard, written by Brook Benton. Straying little from the 1959 Bland (in anything but name) arrangement, it is a brave man who takes on Bobby “Blue”. But Lanegan, who sounds here more in need of care himself, oozes a road-worn earnestness that you cannot fault. And you’d let him take care of you. It is from his 4th album, his first of all covers, and provides also the name of the LP.
Mark Lanegan – You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra cover)
Well, discovering he had covered this, for his second volume of covers, 2014’s Imitations, you’d have to include it, if purely for the curiosity of how he would/could tackle such prime cheese. The answer is surprisingly well. Still the kitschiest of songs, if anyone was going to lever in some credibility, it would be he. He nearly manages, and it is a diverting listen. If just the once. See also his “Mack the Knife.”
Mark Lanegan – Coventry Carol (traditional cover)
Most people are unaware Lanegan had succumbed to the schmaltz of a Christmas album, releasing Dark Mark Does Christmas in the height of 2012’s summer, and only available from his merch table. Schmaltzy it most certainly isn’t. In 2020 he reprised it, adding a further few songs, and it is extraordinary. Enen the religious songs, which isn’t by any means all of them, would have Beelzebub tapping his feet and smiling encouragingly. This ancient carol, dating from at least the 1300s, is sung a capella and is beautiful, if perhaps the same vein as Gavin Bryar’s recording of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.”
Close To Me – The Separate feat. Mark Lanegan (Cure cover)
The Separate is the name given by Fiona Brice to her project of string quartet covers of 80’s hits, each with a different vocalist. If Robert Smith sound bruised in his original rendition, Lanegan sounds positively damaged, arguably not a difficult channel for him to occupy. It seems somehow an apt place to finish this selection of his covers, still only a dip into his ocean.
Really strong writing throughout this piece, Ray – the turn of phrase near the start of “a figure above such inconvenience, a latter-day Keith Richards made flesh” is such a cool way to put it!
I’d avoided Lanegan’s work all these years (other than seeing Screaming Trees when their one popular record came out) for the same reason I don’t dabble in Nick Cave – with all the music options in the world at my fingertips, my wont is not to troll the depths with someone as steeped in permanent-melancholy as Lanegan.
Which many would say is “my loss,” I know. But I just try to keep pointed towards the light.
Anyway, despite my predilection, the songs you featured here are great.