Mark Lanegan -‘Imitations’ (Heavenly)
There’s something rather self-deprecating about the title of this, Mark Lanegan’s eighth studio solo album, and an album of covers. It’s almost as if he’s worried about how it will be perceived. Cover versions can end up flat on their face and an entire album’s worth can be disastrous. Of course, some can become so famous in their own right and take on an entire new life of their own. Trent Reznor has conceded that ‘Hurt’ belongs to Johnny Cash not Nine Inch Nails now. Sometimes it’s the arrangements that owe as much – for example, ‘Hallelujah’ is a Leonard Cohen original and most people will tell you that Jeff Buckley’s version is the definitive; the Buckley version is as much a cover of John Cale’s arrangement as it is of Cohen’s original.
Lanegan doesn’t need to be self-deprecating, because this is a gorgeous record in its own right. Some of these songs are those he picked up from his parents’ music collection, others that are more comparatively recent, like Nick Cave’s ‘Brompton Oratory’ or Hall & Oates’ ‘She’s Gone.’ ‘You Only Live Twice’ was originally sung by Nancy Sinatra for the fifth James Bond film of the same name; it has been said elsewhere that it resembles Lee Hazlewood’s version more than the Sinatra version – certainly, ‘those’ strings have gone – and yet the song holds together, frail yet stronger for it at the same time.
The song I have kept coming back to on here is ‘Solitaire’ – popularised by Andy Williams and The Carpenters, it could be utter schmaltz in the wrong hands (and I dare say not much digging around the internet will produce a mass of versions that are the very worst sort of karaoke). But in the hands of Mark Lanegan it is as heartbreaking as anything by The Smiths or Joy Division.
Like any album should do, it hangs together pretty damn near perfectly. How people react to it will vary on what relationship they have with the individual songs as well as Lanegan’s work elsewhere over the past few decades. But with a huge amount of new releases coming out between now and the end of the year, do not allow this to get lost.
Imitations is out now on Heavenly