Mark Lanegan is a music veteran with decades under his belt since he was the lead singer for the Screaming Trees. Some of his credits include working with the late Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain, among other famous collaborators. The fact that Lanegan survived many of his contemporaries and is still makings music is in itself commendable. The years of experience, wear of years on the road, and the sorrow of friends lost is evident in his hoarse and jaded voice. The subject of his lyrics tend towards that of remorse for times past and fallen heroes. He sings of judgment day, hangings, and unforgivable sins in a way that would not seem out of place in a Leadbelly song.
Phantom Radio is the followup to Mark Lanegan’s excellent 2012 album Blues Funeral. While Blues Funeral had a modest amount of electronica in the mix it was more of a straight forward rock album with some synth and drum machines accompanying the rest of the band. On Phantom Radio, Lanegan has taken a step towards Unkle territory with a more electronic approach. While this works for several tracks, such as the excellent “Killing Season,” but falls short on others such as the forgettable “Ocean Floor.” One almost gets the feeling that some producer wanted to add more synth sounds since electronica seems to be the current trend in modern music. The strength of this album however rests in the more subdued minimalistic songs, many of which appropriately have to do with mourning and regret.
One of those subdued tracks is “Judgement Time” which sounds much more like an old funeral dirge or spiritual song. The song has merely an acoustic guitar, an old pump organ, and Lanegan’s voice; which suits his gravelly tone much better than the wall of synthesizers in other songs on the album. “The Wild People” is an excellent subdued track full of remorse and resignation with the right mix of orchestral backing and twanging tremelo guitar. Another great track is “I Am the Wolf” with lyrics that such as “No one remembers martyrs or Kings.” Referencing that no matter how much one has accomplished it will be mostly forgotten within a couple generations. Lanegan may not have reached the level of fame of Cobain or Staley, but in a long enough timeline the most you can hope for is a historical footnote anyway.
Phantom Radio is definitely worth checking out, however the album as a whole is not as strong as Blues Funeral because of the overproduced synth laden tracks on the album. Lanegan is an excellent singer in the right conditions and a wall of electronic noise does not seem to mesh well with his vocal style. All things considered, Phantom Radio is a good album but it is held back by some unfortunate decisions for the direction of some of its songs.