Back in the 90s, the music press would trot out pieces about how the next REM album would be their ‘rock’ album, which invariably it wasn’t, until the arrival of ‘Monster’, when half the press bemoaned the fact with still sounded like REM and they’d not really made so much of a departure.
For Mark Lanegan, whose career began at the forefront of the grunge explosion, any rock or grunge album would represent a return to his roots, although he seems keener to explore his roots by means of covers albums and letting his influences shine through his songs these days. ‘Phantom Radio’ mined a seam inspired by British post-punk artists like Echo And The Bunnymen, Rain Parade, and the Gun Club, while ‘Gargoyle’ beefed things up a bit more, in stark contrast with his collaborative releases with Duke Garwood, which explored the most introverted spaces through the medium of ultra-sparse, bone-dry blues. With ‘Somebody’s Knocking’, Lanegan channels the electronic side of the 80s, throwing mentions to New order and Depeche Mode into his commentary on the album’s formation.
He goes in straight and strong, as ‘Disbelief Suspension’ fires out of the traps in full rock ‘n’ roll style, with a drive and swagger that’s atypical of Lanegan and more akin to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. And the rock don’t top there: ‘Letter Never Sent’ finds Lanegan sounding like Iggy fronting ‘Automatic’ era Jesus and Mary chain with some 80s synths thrown in for good measure. It’s a decent pop tune with some darker edges. Lifting the drum track from ‘Girls on Film’ single cut ‘Night Flight to Kabul’ is a synth-driven retro pop classic that just need to be recognised as such. ‘Penthouse High’, penned got Gargoyle’ with Alain Johannes drags in elements of DM’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ with New Order’s Regret’ while referencing Sister Sledge’s ‘Lost in Music’ to forge an uncharacteristically buoyant pop song, and more remarkably, it works: Lanegan’s grizzled croon places it in the same bracket of Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’. Not many artists his age can pull of this kind of schtick; but then, not many artists are Mark Lanegan, who can seemingly turn his hand to anything and nail it.
It’s a feel reminiscent of The Psychedelic Furs that radiates from ‘Gazing from the Shore’, and the vocal similarities between Lanegan and Richard Butler are quite remarkable. It’s the Furs’ debut album wall-of-noise sound that comes to mind on the driving ‘Stitch it Up’, too. Elsewhere, ‘Playing Nero’ makes no attempt to disguise its debt to Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’
‘Somebody’s Knocking’ breathes 80s in and out, but does so so naturally it’s remarkable, and it’s testament to Lanegan’s nouse for songwriting and ear for detail that he pulls it off in such style.