If his stint in Queens of the Stone Age has taught Mark Lanegan anything, it's that life is a lot more tolerable when you're wandering through it stinking of sin and seeing double. His tattered wail has always hinted at a man who's seen more than his share of fucked-up situations, and has, more or less, escaped them with a few broken bones and a deeply scarred psyche. He has never sounded more desperate than he does traipsing through Bubblegum
's dark alleys -- and strangely, it's that superego-addled despondency that makes this his most compelling, not to mention complete, work to date.
Lanegan's voice has been distilled to perfection -- his bourbon-ravaged pipes are tailor-made for Bubblegum's languid tales of drugs, sex and salvation. It's all his worst junkie desires come to life, from the greasy stomp of "Sideways in Reverse" to the moribund and reflective "One Hundred Days" and loved-to-death lament "Come to Me". Even a host of top-gun guest stars (Greg Dulli, Izzy and Duff from G'n'R, QOTSA's Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, PJ Harvey) don't detract from the hunger and conviction of Lanegan's performance.
After a succession of attempts, Lanegan has finally assembled a band with sufficient dexterity to bring the dejection of his desires alive through song. "Methamphetamine Blues" is pure damnation thunder, Lanegan wailing over an army of clip-shorn beats culled from the killing floor of a slaughterhouse, and the woozy, bloozy "When Your Number is Up" is Bobby Bland's "Dreamer" after a yearlong LSD-and-whiskey binge. "Hit the City" and "Come to Me", his collaborations with PJ Harvey, sound frightfully natural, her primordial grace perfectly balancing his tattered, nicotine-stained romanticism. Most potent (and harrowing) of the lot is "Can't Come Down", a grainy addict's rumination that sounds as if Lanegan made a deal with the devil to secure its tin-can-on-a-string rhythms and burning angel guitar lines.
Lanegan isn't quite the storyteller than Tom Waits is, but in terms of attitude and timbre, he's the only performer who even comes close to combing the depths of his wry, boozified genius -- and like Waits, he gives us the distinct feeling that he'd just as soon kick the living shit out of you as talk to you. The difference between Lanegan and most performers of his ilk is that you know he has lived life at the bottom end, so to hear him speak of atrocity, pain and craving is to hear it from the horse's mouth.
Statements like "Would you be ashamed if I shake like I'm dying?" (from "Wedding Dress") may sound perplexing, but once you wrap your head around Lanegan's tainted worldview you'll realize that he spits and roars to keep his inner demons at bay, if only to drink his sorrows away another day. He's reached the zenith of his career; let's just hope he sticks around long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor.