It’s been a longtime coming for former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan. His most recent effort, Black Pudding, will be his eighth in a catalog that spans the length of 23 years. Although there have been intermittent collaborations and subsequent touring along the way with names like: Isobel Campbell, The Gutter Twins, and Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan still manages to stay on top of his solo career and connected to his acoustic blues persona with the release of his cut and dry 12 track LP.
Black Pudding is the brainchild of Lanegan and English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. From beginning to end this record features the heavy, unyielding vocals of Lanegan over the steady, rustic instrumentals of Garwood, something comparable to a steam locomotive powering through a transcontinental desert stretch. But there’s something sparse about it. Kind of like the train is plowing through with no particular destination in mind. That’s not to say the album is aimless, it’s laden with golden nuggets of lyrical and musical brilliance, but it misses its mark aesthetically. And I think that might have something to do with there being no conductor at the helm… or whatever steers a train. Lanegan never really takes charge of the album, there’s no showboating or highfaluting; he just goes with the music, and at times it’s brandished with extended instrumental intros and never-ending interludes. If Garwood thought to take one rip-roaring solo, the album would be his. But no one really does anything… the energy level from Lanegan is perpetually at a three and therefore so is Garwood’s.
I enjoyed the title track that kicked off the album and ‘Manchester Special’ which brought it to a close: the way the steel strings dug into the frets, the sympathetic tremolo picking, and the dry sound of Garwood’s fingers popping off the strings… all caught in the recording was lovely. The concept of an instrumental lulling us in, and ushering us out was a beautiful touch as well.
Also there’s something to be said about the lyrical imagery in juxtaposition with the dry gritty acoustics. In ‘Pentecostal’ the rugged sustain of bass notes emanates from the acoustic guitar creating a sonic chatter of strings buzzing off the frets, there’s nothing pretty or clean about it, and it produces an overall amazing effect. Contrapuntally Lanegan’s baritone vocals are equally as finite and together they bring out a tone as harsh and as unforgiving as the desert; even the shakers resemble that of a coldblooded rattlesnake. “Who’s got the keys to the work house, Satan has locked the door, got no wings to take us up off that killing floor,” lyrics like these permeate the album and brazenly complement the musical canvas they’re splashed on.
However these moments of lyrical brilliance come in bursts as they eventually dissipate into thin air. There’s not much cohesiveness in his story telling or much story telling for that matter. The tone and themes tie the album and the songs together nicely: they reference a lawless rough-and-tumble culture that goes hand in hand with death, but really these are just snippets of a concept in no chronological order. Although they’re beautifully crafted lyrical moments, it’s enough to take you there, but not enough to garner your attention and keep you there.
Black Pudding is an album intended for cult fans belonging to either the Lanegan or Garwood camps. For those like myself that are being inducted for the first time, this may not be a good starting point. That said; there are distinctive tracks and an overall fascinating concept to the record that anyone can appreciation, and should take the time to listen for if delving into it. Some notable songs include: ‘Cold Molly,’ ‘Mescalito,’ and ‘Pentecostal.’