Phantom Radio

Mark Lanegan Band

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Phantom Radio Review

by Mark Deming

If there really is a Mark Lanegan Band, it apparently consists of Lanegan and Alain Johannes; despite the collective billing, as on 2012's Blues Funeral, the only consistent presence besides Lanegan on 2014's Phantom Radio is producer and multi-instrumentalist Johannes, who provides the guitar and keyboards that dominate the set, giving it a clean electronic sheen, even when the album is going for a darker, atmospheric tone on numbers such as "The Wild People" and "Judgement Time." Of course, as Lanegan showed on his albums with the Soulsavers, his resonant vocals and dour lyrics can put a lot of flesh and blood on an electronic framework, and he performs the same feat on Phantom Radio. While this music is, for the most part, noticeably simpler and more pop-oriented than his Soulsavers recordings, songs like "Waltzing in Blue," "The Killing Season," and "Floor of the Ocean" manage to sound polished on the surface while Lanegan gives them a rough-hewn gravity, fusing the timeless spirit of classic blues and rural folk songs to music clearly rooted in the 21st century. Lanegan's vocals feel a shade less gritty here than they have on some of his more recent work -- his voice still sounds smoky, but suggests he may have cut down to just one pack of cigarettes a day -- but the slightly smoother textures and better control over his instrument don't make this music sound any less doomstruck, and Lanegan's fascination with the darker side of humanity has yet to fail him creatively. While a few longtime fans might pine for the more organic textures of albums like Whiskey for the Holy Ghost or The Winding Sheet, Phantom Radio shows that a bit more production polish and digital styling hasn't fogged Lanegan's message, and Phantom Radio reveals the singer and his songs are as strong and as eloquent as ever.

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