Mark Lanegan, ‘Imitations’ – Album Review
Mark Lanegan is one of the few ’90s alt-rockers who can boast that pre-‘Nevermind’ Nirvana guested on his solo debut (the nearly lost gem ‘The Winding Sheet’). He also also inspired Kurt Cobain to cover his version of Ledbelly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ for Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged in New York,’ released months after Cobain’s suicide.
Of course, Lanegan’s solo output has been overshadowed by the work he did throughout the ’90s with the Screaming Trees, his side project with the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli (the only other guitarist to show up on Foo Fighters’ eponymous debut), his part-time role in Queens of the Stone Age and his duets records with ex-Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell.
In short, the guy is armed to the teeth with musical chops — and his ability to re-imagine the work of other artists is almost otherworldly. He’s a master imitator.
So it’s not entirely surprising that his latest album, ‘Imitations’ — a set of covers that range from traditionals (‘Mack the Knife’) to James Bond themes (‘You Only Live Twice’) and obscure French kisses (‘Elégie Funèbre’) — is exactly what a covers album should be: a unique and highly creative recasting of other people’s material. If you didn’t know ‘Imitations’ is a covers album, you might figure these tunes for part of Lanegan’s growing, timeless canon.
With his deep, gravelly baritone, Lanegan warrants comparisons to Tom Waits or a crooning Iggy Pop — but it would be wrong to say he imitates either. This is the same Lanegan we’ve heard since the Screaming Trees and ‘Winding Sheet’ days, just a more nuanced and older, wiser version. If this is what he does with other’s songs, just imagine what he can do with his own.