Reviews and articles for Imitations
"This album has been in the back of my mind for a long, long time," he tells Exclaim! "I tried a couple of these kinds of songs when I made [1999's I'll Take Care of You]. I recorded an Engelbert Humperdinck song and a Frank Sinatra song, but they didn't mesh with the rest of the record. I just set those aside and said one day I'll do a record that's fully committed to that kind of material, or at least that kind of sound. By that I mean that '60s pop sound, for lack of a better term; the kind of records Andy Williams made, with orchestration."
The covers collection follows a similar formula to I'll Take Care of You, but this time he takes on the role of '60s crooner with such unlikely choices as "Mack the Knife," the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice" and French singer/songwriter Gerard Manset's "Elegie Funebre," all filtered through his unrivalled song interpretation skills. Also included are tracks written by Nick Cave, John Cale, and acclaimed young L.A. songstress Chelsea Wolfe. But with its tasteful string arrangements by Andrew Joslyn, Imitations is unlike anything Lanegan has done before.
It may be to hard to fathom one of the grunge scene's true survivors pulling out songs commonly found in most grandparents' record collections, but the former Screaming Trees frontman's great skill has always been finding soul in whatever he is singing. Since turning his life around after years of drug abuse, Lanegan's voice has gracefully matured without losing any of its edge.
"I've been feeling more comfortable as a human being in general," he says. "I guess that would lead to comfort in all of these other aspect of my life, singing being one of them. It's not nearly as hard as it was when I started. It was really difficult to sing, nobody showed me how to do it. I remember early Screaming Trees shows in the '80s, when I'd walk away with a pounding headache from trying to sing way out of my range. It took a long time to really learn how to sing in a natural way, but I've been there for quite a while now, luckily."
Lanegan will be touring in support of Imitations with a stripped-down acoustic band, including strings, but after only a handful of dates in major U.S. cities starting in October, he'll be spending most of the remainder of the year in Europe, where he can escape the grunge tag that follows him on this side of the Atlantic.
"To be honest, when I do interviews with North American press, it's usually a lot of questions about grunge music, Nirvana — 'How do you feel about the new Nirvana reissue?' — that kind of shit. So, you know, it's not much fun to discuss that stuff over and over again. That doesn't happen in Europe. I think a lot of people that listen to my music over there might not even be aware of the Screaming Trees. In fact, I know that's true. It's not like I'm ashamed of it, but it's like talking about that year of kindergarten over and over again. It was a learning experience, and that's about it."
6 Days From Tomorrow
It’s probably not unfair to suggest that Mark Lanegan likes to keep himself occupied these days. Barely had an extensive tour in support of his Blues Funeral album ended when up popped Black Pudding, his collaboration with friend Duke Garwood. Add to that a whole host of one-off collaborations and contributions to other projects (one is in the post as I type, another – and very exciting to me – one is awaiting release), and you’d perhaps forgive him for wanting to put his feet up for a bit and listen to other people make music for a while and for a change. For a short while, this might have actually been the plan, before he then got back up again and gathered together favourites and friends to follow-up his 1999 I’ll Take Care Of You collection of covers with an even more far-reaching and tender set that can only brighten his star further.
There’s a couple of ways to approach an album of other people’s’ stuff. One is to assemble a bunch of songs that fit and flow, or there’s the aesthetically stranger but ultimately more satisfying way of going “sod that, these are the songs that I’m doing and these are the songs that are going to be on there”. It does lend Imitations an air of hopping from one musical epoch to another, but it’s all done with such grace and a sense of happiness in sharing that it would be weird to imagine a better way of presenting these songs. Indeed, the weirdest moment (and one of my favourite moments) on the record comes in flashback form where his treatment of Frank Sinatra’s Pretty Colours comes closest to something from his previous cover set in the form of Creeping Coastline Of Lights by LA oddsters The Leaving Trains. And unlike other albums of reworked material, it doesn’t require knowledge or affection for the originals, as Mark’s own affection is more than enough to convince even the most rock-minded amongst his fanbase could quite happily sit and listen to him belt out an Andy Williams number with a light heart and something in their eye.
Something else that warms the cockles (or equivalent) is reading through the assembled cast list and seeing returning faces from previous albums. Mike Johnson’s name is one that immediately springs to mind as a return that is fondly welcome, as is that of former Screaming Trees drummers Mark Pickerel and Barrett Martin. There is a small double-take when the name of Bill Rieflin turns up frequently, as he is more familiar in this parish as tubthumper with noisier acts such as Ministry and Pigface, but he does a great job here and it’s not like Lanegan isn’t averse to assembling as eclectic a set of drummers on his solo albums as possible.
For such a varied set, it’s hard to pick out favourites as I suspect that they’ll change with whatever mood this album gets revisited in. For now though, I’d have to plump for the Side One pairing of Deepest Shade and You Only Live Twice – a great coupling of recent (an unreleased Twilight Singers piece) and past (Nancy Sinatra’s Bond theme), showing just how reverently he can take something from one of his best friends and make it utterly his own, or conversely doing the same thing to a classic tune by removing the thing that made it such a recognisable piece in the first place (John Barry’s gorgeous orchestral sweeps, although this may well be because Robbie Williams has yet to return them) and still making it sound stunning.
I guess it’s just a pleasure these days to listen to something uncynically nice. It can sometimes feel as if it could all collapse around your ears as one’s brain tries to free itself from this beautiful comfort zone and return to a grumpy normality. But that’s the point of Easy Listening, and it takes the steady hand and (as evidenced here) light and airy tones of someone like Mark Lanegan to keep the glamour going over the course of the record. You may well want to rush out into the garden and swear loudly and vigorously to bring balance to the universe once it’s over, but as soon as you come back in (and probably shortly before the police arrive, alerted by surprised neighbours) you’ll want to put it back on again. And if you still can’t get your head around the fact that this is a rather brilliantly-realised collection of songs regardless of their original genre, just imagine how wide this will blow Mark Lanegan’s audience, and how many grandmas will flock to the online store of their choice to find more of this nice man off that nice record with some tunes they remembered from their own youth – and that the Law Of Averages dictates that at least a few of these will make Here Comes That Weird Chill their next purchase. That image alone makes Imitations a curiously essential purchase.
There may have been eight years between Mark Lanegan’s brilliant 2004 solo album Bubblegum and its underrated follow-up Blues Funeral, but he’s not giving us a chance to miss him that much again. This year already he’s supported Nick Cave nationally and released Black Pudding with guitarist Duke Garwood. He sings on the new Moby record, and now he’s back with a covers album inspired by the schmaltzy Dean Martin and Perry Como records of his childhood.
It’s funny to imagine grunge survivor Lanegan – he of the gloomy and gruff pipes – nestled by the fireplace in a turtleneck, poised to croon his heart out. But just as Andy Williams floored the bully Nelson Muntz on a classic Simpsons episode (“Bam, second encore!”), Lanegan does remarkably well with the tender romance and sensitive-man melancholy of the songs he’s chosen. Those include three once sung by Williams, whom Lanegan calls “one of the all-time greatest singers.”
Passion project this may be, but it’s not an excuse for him to coast on easy-listening tropes. He sings in French, for one, on Gerard Manset’s ‘Elégie Funèbre’ (“Funeral Elegy”), which is made appropriately spooky by the quietly turbulent arrangements, and comes off like Bing Crosby’s estranged, hard-living brother on a minimal reading of ‘Mack the Knife’, striking up a jauntiness that’s rare for him. Of course, Lanegan’s days wailing at the front of Screaming Trees are long behind him, and his Greg Dulli team-up The Gutter Twins utilises some of the same brand of hangdog brooding heard here, as do his albums with Isobel Campbell.
Lanegan’s song choice isn’t all yesteryear legends, though he tips his hat to both Nancy and Frank Sinatra (‘You Only Live Twice’ and ‘Pretty Colors’, respectively). He opens with Chelsea Wolf’s fairly recent ‘Flatlands’, retaining the original’s folky backbone. He borrows from his pals, nodding to Dulli with The Twilight Singers’ ‘Deepest Shade’ and to Cave with a heartbreaking reading of The Boatman’s Call’s ‘Brompton Oratory’ that sounds like a deflated parade.
Most interesting is how we compiles all those tunes into a hardy tradition of sad-sack songwriting. Stripped of the original’s period cheese, Hall & Oates’ ‘She’s Gone’ sounds like a Sinatra-style standard, while John Cale’s Slow Dazzle -era ‘I’m Not the Loving Kind’ keeps the baroque classiness but dials back Cale’s characteristic oddness. Of the Andy Williams numbers, the closing ‘Autumn Leaves’ applies both the pining croon and punch-drunk strings, and ‘Solitaire’ proves quite affecting despite (or because of) its classic lonely-soul template.
That French-language track aside, it can initially sound like Lanegan isn’t moving much beyond his established comfort zone. But rather than forcibly inhabiting the original spirit or style of each song, he simply makes them come to him.
Yahoo! Music Canada
At a time when his peers in Nirvana are being remembered
with the deluxe reissue of their final studio album, In Utero, former
Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan has no interest in celebrating
his past. Rather, the singer, who is perhaps best known for the Screaming
Tree's 1992 alternative rock hit "Nearly Lost You," is looking
to the future with Imitations, a collection of his interpretation
of songs that have influenced him throughout his life, due on Sept.
When we mention that Williams isn't appreciated by most
rockers or rock fans, Lanegan acknowledges, "Yeah, most people
consider him to be a bit schmaltzy, but I once heard that [David]
Bowie's biggest influence was Anthony Newley, so inspiration can come
He has similar admiration for Nick Cave, who he's toured
with and performed with in the past. Lanegan has collaborated with
Greg Dulli in the past as the Gutter Twins, as well as in the Twilight
Singers, so there's a connection there.
"When I do something, I do it for the specified
amount of time and then I do something else," Lanegan explains.
"Usually I get asked to do stuff that's cool and if I ever can't
do something, it's usually because of logistics, I don't have the
time for it. Rarely do I get ask to do something that I'd rather not
do. I usually do it if I feel that it's something I can do."
In fact, a couple former members of the band, drummers
Mark Pickerel and Barrett Martin, play on Imitations. "So it's
not like we don't see each other or make music together," he
explains. "I just don't want to do it as the Trees." Other
notable musicians on Imitations include past Lanegan collaborator
Mike Johnson and former Guns N' Roses member and Seattle scenester
Duff McKagan, as well as live string and horn players.
The Arts Desk
by Thomas H Green
Grouchy ex-grunger sets the controls for old-fashioned mellow on a set of covers
Mark Lanegan is a forbidding figure, which makes him
appealing. In interviews he’s often taciturn and not very likeable,
as if he cannot be bothered with the presentation of his art to the
media. Good on him. There are now a billion bum-suckers out there
who’d fuck a chicken on YouTube if they thought it would draw
attention to whatever paltry excuse for music they were pushing at
The Line of Best Fit
by Janne Oinonen
A few months ago, Mark Lanegan served Black Pudding, a duo album with grit-blues guitarist Duke Garwood. On his second album of 2013, the former Screaming Trees and erstwhile Queens of the Stone Age vocalist offers twelve cover versions. Perhaps Lanegan’s making amends for the seven-year gap between 2005’s brilliant solo breakthrough Bubblegum and last year’s equally – if not more so – powerful Blues Funeral?
Whatever the rate of productivity, Lanegan remains seemingly incapable of making a bad record. Mainly stark and stripped down, Imitations could be considered a sort of follow-up to 1999’s charming low-key covers collection I’ll Take Care of You. Only this time, instead of wrapping his nicotine-ravaged yet powerful pipes around a bunch of tortured deep-blue soul classics and dark-hued cult singer-songwriter fare (in other words the type of dark-end-of-the-street fare you’d expect Lanegan to feast his ears on) the focus is on stuff that could be filed under easy listening.
If you’ve ever wondered how Lanegan would tackle tunes by Neil Sedaka (‘Solitaire’), Nancy Sinatra (‘You Only Live Twice’) and Frank Sinatra (‘Pretty Colours’), here’s your chance. Contrasted with Lanegan’s ultimate bad-ass rock survivor reputation, that forecast might bode queasy things. However, inspired by records Lanegan’s parents listened to, Imitations makes perfect sense.
Lanegan’s subterranean rumble of a voice, sounding like it’s been dragged through the fires of hell more than once, breathes fresh spark into songs that have been rendered almost anodyne by repeated exposure. The highpoints (a thoroughly lonely, string-slathered rendition of jazz standard ‘Autumn Leaves’; a brass-enriched take on Nick Cave’s ‘Brompton Oratory’ – one of a handful of contemporary cuts here – that might just trump the original) make you think of a crooner who’s back on stage after a series of bad turns, battered but unbowed, not quite suited to the comfy daytime matinees any longer but still belting out the tunes with a delicate phrasing that belies the thick layers of rasp that coat his vocal chords. Alternatively, you could think of these tender expressions of longing and loneliness as the sort of thing Lanegan would love to write, were his personal songwriting kit not filled with the darker stuff.
On the downside, it’s doubtful whether another version of ‘Mack The Knife’ is really necessary, and Lanegan’s take on John Cale’s majestic ‘Not The Loving Kind’ is close to, well, an imitation, although it’s great to see one of this woefully underrated songwriter’s finest moments in the spotlight, handled with the care and respect it deserves. Even so, Imitations is another strong entry to the diverse repertoire of a singer who seems to be gaining an increasing grasp of his vast expressive potential with age.
The covers album is often the last refuge of the creatively
bankrupt; always a vanity project. Make a decent fist of it though,
and it can be your Johnny Cash moment. On ‘Imitations’,
Mark Lanegan growls his way through sad waltzes and smooth crooning
standards like ‘Lonely Street’ (Andy Williams) and ‘Mack
The Knife’ (Sinatra), and brings an intimate tenderness to John
Cale’s ‘I’m Not The Loving Kind’. Less successful
is the hymnal ambience of Nick Cave’s ‘Brompton Oratory’,
which is an accident involving two horn sections. Up there with Cash’s
‘American’ series this is not. But 48-year-old Lanegan
is a classy bastard, so he just about gets away with it.
From Screaming Trees to his current solo work, Mark Lanegan has proved himself to be the quintessential musical journeyman. His latest release is his second covers album ‘Imitations’. And this time it’s personal
On the album, you revisit many
of the country and pop records you heard as a kid growing up in Washington
State . . .
Did recording these songs bring
back that feeling?
Imitations is a modest title for
the album – was that deliberate?
Doing three songs by Andy Williams
– brave or foolish?
You cover a father and daughter
– Frank Sinatra’s Pretty Colours and Nancy Sinatra’s
You Only Live Twice, a great lost Bond theme . . .
The album opens with Flatlands,
by new artist, Chelsea Wolfe . . .
You also tackle Deepest Shade,
by your friend and fellow Gutter Twin, Greg Dulli . . .
He’s back on the road with
Afghan Whigs, and Soundgarden have reformed. Is a Screaming Trees
reunion on the cards?
Your folky cover of Mack the Knife
is so different to the swing band version we’re all familiar
with . . .
You do a song in French –
Elégie Funèbre by Gérard Manset. Pourquoi?
The Irish Times Album Review
Screaming Tree, Gutter Twin, Queen of the Stone Age: Mark Lanegan has been around the block in his 48 years, so we’ll forgive the fact that his eighth solo record is all covers. A tracklisting informed by his own favourite music as well as his parents means the inclusion of songs as recent as this year’s Flatlands by Chelsea Wolfe. But it’s the older tunes that ring most true. Highlights include a superb string-laden take on Andy Williams’s Solitaire and a brilliant Bacharach-esque arrangement of John Cale’s I’m Not the Loving Kind, while Nick Cave’s Brompton Oratory is turned into a beautiful, full-bodied jazz lounge tune. No matter the genre, the singer generally proves himself a wonderful interpreter of other peoples’ songs, revelling in nostalgia without becoming lost in its vapour.
Having fronted the Screaming Trees, provided vocal duties on a multitude of Queens Of The Stone Age tracks, released a wealth of material under his own name and provided countless other contributions to countless other artists, it has become a widely known scientific fact that Mark Lanegan's voice is the deepest thing in human existence. However, on Imitations it would appear that he has taken rather a softer turn.
Imitations is a collection of classic songs that Lanegan grew up with. Having said that he wanted to make an album which retained the classic feel of the originals, he's done so to the point that, if anything, he's become a crooner. It's more Richard Hawley than Songs For The Deaf... and it's also very good. From the swampy blues of Chelsea Wolfe's 'Flatlands' - the youngest song on the album - to his frankly beautiful version of Andy Williams' 'Lonely Street', Imitations does perfectly-measured justice to the songs he loves.
Such is the imposing nature of Lanegan's voice, the songs effortlessly take on his identity. What really impresses on throughout the record though, is the versatility of his voice. On 'She's Gone', originally by Hall & Oates, his voice is a relative falsetto. So convincing and credible is his croon throughout, that the album has a strongly nostalgic feel. It really feels like something from different age.
The fact that Nick Cave is the third youngest of the artists covered really gives you an idea of what Lanegan was going for on this record. Cave is also the most obvious inclusion on the record, such is the nature of his voice. As you can imagine, 'Brompton Oratory', from The Boatman’s Call, works impeccably. The only point at which it really doesn't work, is on Gérard Manset's 'Élégie Funèbre'. Put simply, Mark Lanegan singing in French isn't a particularly good thing. This is however, the only slip up to be found.
The album's two real gems are the aforementioned beauty of 'Lonely Street' and the sweeping orchestration of closing track 'Autumn Leaves', the third Andy Williams track on display. 'Autumn Leaves' encapsulates perfectly what Lanegan has achieved on this album: it is simple, elegant and allows the vocals to take the lead without ever overpowering the subtle compositions. By paying homage to classic songwriting, Mark Lanegan has produced a remarkably refreshing album.
Imitations is a pipe-and-slippers album, Mark Lanegan's declared attempt to make an album that reminded him of the music his parents listened to when he was a kid, hence the three songs best known in versions by Andy Williams. Nick Cave (Brompton Oratory) and Greg Dulli (Deepest Shade) also get saloon singer makeovers, and the concept is so consistent that the joins are all but invisible. Imitations works best when Lanegan, his voice as dark and smoky as one of those old-fashioned gentlemen's clubs, tackles something so unexpected it forces you to reappraise the song: You Only Live Twice, in particular, is a triumph, the grandeur and drama of the Bond theme replaced by a delicate weariness. Solitaire, too, is utterly convincing, with a twang added to the guitar and drums tolling funereally – both form part of a strong mid-album run that's pretty much pure loveliness. That said, it's lightweight stuff, and the artier items on the list don't add ballast. Taken as the simplest of pleasures, though, Imitations succeeds on anyone's terms.