Melody Maker, January 29, 1994

Scotch Mist
The Stud Brothers

Brilliant, of course. But first a little background...
Mark Lanegan is the singer with Screaming Trees, one of Seattle's better but lesser known bands, whose 1992 album, "Sweet Oblivion", is one of the greatest records ever made. The Trees, as we've said before, are as American as apple pie and the National Rifle Association - four huge, sometimes corpulent, cartographers of the lost soul of shitsville. They sound a little like The Byrds, Black Sabbath and The Birthday Party (Lanegan reckons they sound like Free). They're a GREAT American rock band.
Mark Lanegan is a small-town boy who, had it not been for punk rock, beer, and a deeply-held conviction that life is deeply unfair, would've ended up working in the Ellensburg slaughterhouse. And his songs, whether solo ro with the Trees, are often about the nightmare life he might have led.
This is Mark's second solo album. The first, 1990's "The Winding Sheet" featuring Nirvana's Kurtd Cobain and Krist Novoselic and mostly co-written with Dinosaur Jr's Mike Johnson, was one of the late Sounds albums of the year is is shortly to enjoy a timely re-release.
"Whiskey For The Holy Ghost" is a little less despairing than it's predecessor. Nevertheless, it's a monument to morbid, magnificant self-absorption. If that sounds like Lanegan's got his head up his arse, well, maybe. But the point is that very few singers have the nerve, humility and arrogance to lay themselves so bare (in Lanegan's case, so flayed), and fewer still have the skill to render that nakedness so plausible and involving. "Whiskey" is a dense but intensely moving piece of work. Lanegan, freed from the stricture of a band, gives full rein to his voice and his beautifully pessimistic perspective. Overall, the atmosphere is at once twitchy and slothful, a haze of terminal apathy perpetually punctured by despair and anguish. Songs don't so much reach a climax as rise to a lazy crescendo, Lanegan's voice veering from a perfectly pitched ghostly tenor to a red raw nicotine growl.
Throughout, as the title suggests, he invokes religious imagery - angels (non-existant), gates (closed), halos (fake), and a most definitely dead Jesus Christ - all of which, we presume, appear and are swiftly dispatched in order to remind us and Lanegan that the point is that there is no hope. Even when things come good, when he meets his perfect love ("Sunrise"), they quickly turn bad. He leaves, believeing himself thoroughly undeserving. Both in sentiment and sound, The song recalls Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat". Oddly, this is the closest we get to a story. Oddly, because so many of the tracks sound like ballads. There's always the vaguely ambient twang of a guitar, the maudlin quiver of a fiddle, a heavy acoustic strum and, of course, lanegan's unmistakeable Northwestern drawl.
There's only one real rocker present, "Borracho". with Lanegan begging forgiveness and swearing revenge over screaming bloody guitar. But, as with the other 12 songs (there always seem to be an unlucky 13 tracks on Lanegan's solo albums), past sins are unspecified, Lanegan preferring instead to contemplate whether time will redeem him. Time is a word that crops up a lot, as is Shame.
Often Lanegan's meditations attain an almost Gothic quality (albeit American Gothic, as in Nathaniel Hawthorne or "At Close Range"). "Kindoms Of rain", where Lanegan's doomed protagonist "stoops to feed the crows scraps of truth already cold," is underscored by the mournful tones of a church organ. On "Pendulum" and "Judas Touch", the skewed chime of a guitar combines with Lanegan's deep, soporific voice to create minimalist epics. Nothing much happens, but both feel forbidding and cavernous.
Throughout, Lanegan's message is that we are all our own worst enemies. it may not be particularly original, but rarely has it been put in so startling and compelling a way. After listening to "Whiskey For The Holy Ghost" a dozen times, the image that most readily springs to mind is of someone deliberately and diligently digging their own grave and then wondering what on earth they're doing six feet under. "I think I dug too deep", sings Lanegan on "Riding On The Nightingale". His voice is pitched somewhere between resignation and yearning.
Truly erotic.