It’s quite something to note that Gargoyle is Mark Lanegan’s tenth solo album. He first gained attention leading grunge godfathers Screaming Trees back in the 1980s – and a wealth of projects and collaborations have followed since 1984. If Screaming Trees didn’t quite reach the Everest-like commercial peaks of Nirvana, Lanegan has managed to successfully immerse himself in vastly different musical activities- and compared to a number of his contemporaries avoid repeating himself for decades, turning into a totalitarian bandleader or simply winding up dead.
It does, of course, help that he’s got that voice. Comparable- in a good way – to the deep bass voices of Leonard Cohen (RIP) or Tom Waits, it’s leathery and gruff, yet still inherently musical. Frankly, Lanegan could recite the phonebook or a shopping list, and his expression would still be enticing listening. When the first track to be released from the album ‘Nocturne’ arrived a few months ago, this was still there, greeting the listener like a wry smile over the airwaves.
Where does Gargoyle fit into his catalogue? There’s definitely a sense of following on from 2012’s Blues Funeral and 2014’s Phantom Radio. These albums have a sense of an alternative rock history, drawing in not just grunge and dabbling with electronics in various forms, but also 80s goth music. While you don’t hear much of this on the Screaming Trees albums, these have come to the fore far more on recent albums.
Whilst entire dissertations could be written on the meanings behind ‘goth’ and ‘gothic’ you can’t fail to pick up on these themes from the album cover alone. It’s a gothic church fence, like the kind you would find around a 19th century style church, where one assumes you might also find a, um, gargoyle.
And this is perhaps where the album might struggle a bit. It has some great songs – in the pre-internet era, you might have said the aforementioned ‘Nocturne’ was worth the price of admission alone – and ‘First Day Of Winter’ and ‘Emperor’ are amongst other strong contenders as well. Yet somehow, whilst it’s a decent album, it can lack originality at times and the feeling can be that somehow it’s not quite the sum of its many parts. It’s gothic, it’s noir, and it’s kind of fun, yet somehow it doesn’t quite connect at the end of the day.