“My heart is black as night,” Mark Lanegan claims a few minutes into Straight Songs of Sorrow. And maybe he’s telling the truth. But on the plus side, his mind has never been clearer and more focused. The former frontman for Screaming Trees, Queens of The Stone Age, Gutter Twins, Twilight Singers and plenty more penned this dozenth studio album as a companion to his just released memoir Sing Backwards and Weep. I haven’t seen that yet, but if it’s half as unflinching and harrowing as some of these musical confessions, I wouldn’t read it alone in the dark. Over a mixed backdrop of skittery electro-rock, fingerpicked acoustic folk, lush synth-pop, post-modern Americana, junkie gospel and more, Dark Mark leads you on a grim personal travelogue of drugs and violence, blood and beauty, death and destruction, paranoia and persecution. And even though there are the occasional glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel, by the time he’s through, he makes Iggy Pop and Lou Reed seem like Donny and Marie. “I spent my life trying every way to die,” he confesses at one point. “If I had a razor, I would cut you everywhere,” he warns at another. Yikes. No wonder he can’t seem to keep a band together. On well. At least you can’t accuse him of not giving it to you straight.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “When considering any great work of art, be it a painting, a novel, or a piece of music, it’s natural to wonder what might have inspired it: ‘the story behind the song’. Mark Lanegan’s new album, Straight Songs Of Sorrow, flips that equation. Here are 15 songs inspired by a story: his life story, as documented by his own hand in his new memoir, Sing Backwards And Weep. The book is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, thanks to Lanegan’s unsparing candour in recounting a journey from troubled youth in eastern Washington, through his drug-stained existence amid the ’90s Seattle rock scene, to an unlikely salvation at the dawn of the 21st century. There’s death and tragedy, yet also humour and hope, thanks to the tenacity which impels its host, even at his lowest moments. As Lanegan writes near the end: “I was the ghost that wouldn’t die.” While the memoir documents a struggle to find peace with himself, his new album emphasis the extent to which he came to realise that music is his life. “I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realised there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realised that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.” Straight Songs Of Sorrow feels both definitive and unique, a culmination of its creator’s arc yet also indicative of the energy that drives him onto future horizons. No wonder Lanegan is proud. “I do feel this is something special for me, something honest,” he says. “’Cos records are not real life, man — in case no one told ya. They’re just a fake version of life!” Mark Lanegan laughs. “Well, at least you have one now that’s a little closer to being real. Unfortunately, it’s by me.”