Bubblegum is as rich and fixed a vision as you're likely to find on one CD this year.
Jacqueline Hodges 2004
The hard-knocks topography of rock 'n' roll is as well charted as all those dusty, distant roads have become in the Lonely Planet guides. It therefore comes as a surprise when the shadows are illuminated by entirely fresh sparks.
When Mark Lanegan recorded his 1999 album I'll Take Care Of You, he revealed what many of his closest followers had already guessed. As one of Seattle's finest, Lanegan and his band The Screaming Trees were as contemporary as any of their comrades-in-grunge-arms. Yet Field Songs demonstrated a recognition of musical heritage that rivalled Harry Smith.
In his fifth album-proper, Bubblegum, he explores the debauched road that many a troubadour has taken before him. Not for nothing does he sing "Here comes the highway / Can't you see what its done for me?" in 'Driving Death Valley Blues'.
As with all Lanegan projects, Bubblegum is so rich with collaborators that it could warrant Pete Frame growing a Rock Family Tree just for him. Masters Of Reality's Chris Goss and Eleven's Alain Johannes produce much of the record. Contributions come from Polly Harvey, Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri and Izzy Stradlin.
Bubblegum sees Lanegan alternating between atmospheres of charged hedonism (particularly 'Sideways In Reverse' and 'Hit The City'), and secular atonement. 'One Hundred Days', with its weary resignation of "There is no morphine / I'm only sleeping" and the hopeful words of "I know a ship comes in every day" comes closest to phrasing the essence of this set.
There are unexpected references too. The circular guitar refrain of 'Strange Religion' echoes Lorraine Ellison's torch-belter 'Stay With Me', and Lanegan makes a lyrical nod to the great Lee Hazelwood in 'Wedding Dress' ("We got married in a fever").
Ultimately though, Lanegan is too restless to let his influences dictate to him. Bubblegum is as rich and fixed a vision as you're likely to find on one CD this year, with little or no room for filler flab.
That rock 'n' roll scenery may be familiar, but its not often it's rendered as beautifully as this.