Mark Lanegan – Imitations

Sidestepping obvious pitfalls, the execution is flawless from rock’s elder statesman.

Label: Heavenly Recordings

Rating: 8

Gracefully strutting into the role of an elder statesmen in rock, Mark Lanegan, since lighting the first fires of grunge in Screaming Trees, has seen it all, met everyone and then crafted a classic album or two with them. From Josh Homme and PJ Harvey to Isobel Campbell and Moby, Lanegan has perhaps the most enviable phonebook in music. So, when he stated “For a long time I’ve wanted to make a record that gave me the same feeling those old records did [his parents’], using some of the same tunes I loved as a kid and some that I’ve loved as I have gotten older” he laid down a whole new gauntlet; the ever risky cover album.

Cover albums sadly normally fall into two categories, those that have added nothing to the original works and those that have swung wildly away in a flailing and failed attempt at being original. Through charm or pure skill though, Lanegan sidesteps these pitfalls. ‘Imitations’ radiates an excitement and honesty, Lanegan relishing the chance to share these songs and to live in their original performers’ shoes as well as adding his own flourishes and atmospherics.

The execution is consistently flawless, best exemplified from the seamless switch from the 70s elegant sway of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘You Only Live Twice’ to her father’s gloomy but swaggering croon of ‘Pretty Colours’. When staying close to the source material there’s Nick Cave and The Twilight Singers with the bluesy offerings of ‘Brompton Oratory’ and ‘The Deepest Shade’. The songs hang together well despite all the decades between them, united in regret and remorse. They’re sorrowful songs sung in different enough voices to do them justice; he even manages to sing the penultimate song in French, Gerard Manset’s ‘Elégie Funèbre’. Lanegan inhabits his choices so well it’s not as shocking as it should be to hear him exquisitely deliver a song in another language.

It’s a rewarding experience and probably one of the closest, most intimate listens an artist will offer this year. It comes across as a genuine and kindly gesture of a man who is desperate to share in what he loves. Yet it still resonates with everything that makes Mark Lanegan, it’s inescapably him, a two way conversation, a shared emotion. There’s an empty seat at the corner booth, a gin-soaked conversation, of loss, wisdom and redemption.