MARK LANEGAN – ” Screaming Trees and Many Others ” Dead at 57 Years Age

Posted: February 25, 2022 in MUSIC

Grunge pioneer Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, The Gutter Twins and more has passed away at the age of 57.

The former Screaming Trees frontman, Queens of the Stone Age collaborator and esteemed solo artist Mark Lanegan has sadly died aged 57. A statement issued on his official Twitter account reads: “Our beloved friend Mark Lanegan passed away this morning at his home in Killarney, Ireland. Rest in peace Mark Lanegan. There are no words to describe this tremendous loss. Mark was a rare talent, a true visionary, with a one-of-a-kind voice that propelled Seattle’s Screaming Trees to grunge stardom in the ’90s was also a prolific solo artist, a member of many bands, and a collaborator to many artists.

Born on 25th November 1964 in Ellensburg, Washington, Lanegan shot to fame in the mid 1980s as a member of pioneering grunge band Screaming Trees. Lanegan released seven albums with Screaming Trees before their split in 2000 – an eighth album, “Last Words: The Final Recordings“, followed in 2011.

Just watch the video of his onstage meltdown at the 1992 Roskilde Festival when poor sound and booze pushed Lanegan into the red, leading him to toss a monitor speaker offstage, which destroyed an expensive TV camera. As Dave Grohl put it in the pages of the grunge oral biography Everybody Loves Our Town, “[You] don’t wanna mess with that dude. Give him a microphone, let him sing, then get the fuck out of his way.”

Lanegan was often locked in a kind of devil’s bargain as an artist. Some of his best work came out of his worst moments. His levelled-up vocal performances and shattering lyrics on Screaming Trees’ “Sweet Oblivion” which included the Singles soundtrack hit, “Nearly Lost You” and “Dust” arrived through a haze of booze and junk.

The sixth and best album by the Screaming Trees “Sweet Oblivion” was a winning mix of West Coast grunge, knotty punk and 70s hard rock. It should have put the band on a similar commercial level as Nirvana, yet it didn’t pan out that way.

But it’s Sweet Oblivion’s Zeppelin-esque opening cut that ranks among the Trees’ greatest works. Opening with a bouncy, grooving riff and peppered with wild bends and huge open chords, “Shadow of the Season” effectively distils everything the Conner brothers’ guitar-bass relationship had been building towards. Of course, it helps that it’s propelled by the recently joined Barrett Martin’s expansive drumming style and an especially wide-ranging vocal performance from Lanegan, whose octave-leaping dexterity mirrors the intensity of Gary Lee Conner’s guitar.

Dust” actually turned out to be more of a signpost to Lanegan’s solo career than the guns-blazing final huzzah that fans may have envisioned. There’s a haunting blues quality to much of the album, though it’s undoubtedly the razor-backed product of a band with a steady grip on rock dynamics, the Eastern flavours of the outstanding “Halo Of Ashes” and the ringing “Dying Days” being undeniable proof. The band didn’t officially call it quits until 2000, but “Dust “proved to be a worthy send-off.

He will be dearly missed—and for those who haven’t heard his early solo masterpiece, “Whiskey For The Holy Ghost“, please take a listen to its first track, “The River Rise,” and remember this towering artist. 

 For many of the million-plus people who bought that record in the months after its 1992 release, the Mark Lanegan story begins and ends with the Trees’ contribution, a roiling rocker called “Nearly Lost You.” But the amazing thing about Lanegan was how, with each passing year, the singer made that commercial milestone seem more and more like a footnote in a journey that saw him outlast grunge and outlive his more famous friends in the scene to become one of rock’s most venerable vagabonds.

Lots of people gave Lanegan microphones during his 57 years on this planet. Through them, he found his voice, that voice that cut through every song he lent it to like a burst of blue smoke or the tonic sting of cheap booze. Lanegan spent decades curing his instrument, building up its strength and elasticity through his time fronting Screaming Trees while simultaneously soaking it in cigarettes, alcohol and sundry intoxicants. By the time that band slipped from agit-psychedelia into the meaty blues stomp of their major-label peak, and Lanegan started kicking around the undergrowth of American roots music on his early solo efforts, the voice was nicely weathered beyond its years. It matched the weight of his words, copious with regret, the lure of devils and fools, and deep, unsated hunger.

Buzz Factory is the best example of the Trees’s early output on SST Records. There are heaving great riffs, and the music carries a raw, unvarnished quality, veering from the Soundgarden-ish “Black Sun Morning” to the Stooges-like “Subtle Poison“. There’s plenty to admire, though, not least “Where The Twain Shall Meet” and “Flower Web”. Buzz Factory was the band’s last album for SST, after which they went briefly to Sub Pop before a more extended tenure with Epic.

He was given a second chance to clutch a microphone stand before teeming masses of fans as an auxiliary member of Queens of the Stone Age. He enjoyed serving as the counterpoint to softer voices like Greg Dulli, Martina Topley-Bird and Isobel Campbell. He let electronic producers like Moby, UNKLE and Soulsavers bend their circuits to his frequency. He tried on songs by The xx, Alan Lerner, Leadbelly and Guns ‘N’ Roses. There were guest appearances on records by The Breeders, the Eagles Of Death Metal, Masters Of Reality, Mike Watt and Creature With The Atom Brain, to name but a few. 

In 1994, Lanegan formed the supergroup Mad Season alongside Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, together with drummer Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, and bassist John Baker Saunders. They released one album, ‘Above’, the following year.

 in part to help Staley overcome his own vices – and the group’s loose jams quickly began to take shape, culminating in their sole album, “Above”. Mark Lanegan was drafted in to contribute vocals to two tracks, but clearly delivered a lot more, receiving co-writing credits on both. While the grungy “I’m Above” might be the obvious pick here, it’s the jazzier “Long Gone Day” that pushes the group out of its comfort zone, and is all the better for it.

He released his first solo album ‘The Winding Sheet’  his 1990 debut solo album four years before Nirvana popularized the song by Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on MTV Unplugged. Kurt handled guitar and backing vocals, while Krist played bass and Lanegan’s Screaming Trees bandmate Mark Pickerel handled drums, and as legend has it, it came from a 1989 session where the four of them covered a handful of Lead Belly songs in 1990 and went on to enjoy a successful and critically revered solo career. Lanegan also carved out an impressive discography as a solo artist, releasing 12 albums His 12th and most recent record ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’ was released in May 2020.

Digging into the self-torture of his past for “Sing Backwards” resulted in “Straight Songs of Sorrow“, a collection of electrified blues and folky pleas for forgiveness and relief.

Lanegan survived the depths of addiction to heroin and alcohol, which he recounted with unflinching honesty in “Sing Backwards”. It’s a brutal but bracing read, with Lanegan offering no quarter to any of his former bandmates, collaborators and acquaintances. 

When you revisit Screaming Trees today, it’s sometimes hard to square the band’s paisley-patterned sound with the intimidating image Lanegan cultivated later on. The group’s major label debut, “Uncle Anesthesia“, was released eight months before Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991, just missing the grunge goldmine.

Then again, its lead single, “Bed of Roses” wasn’t really grungy at all, gesturing instead to the jangly sounds of R.E.M. While the long-haired, leather-clad Lanegan seen in the song’s video looks every bit the bar-brawling rocker, his voice—deep and sonorous, but not yet displaying the ravages of a hard-knock life suggests that, if the cultural tides had turned a different way, Lanegan could’ve been the American Morrissey.

After the Trees’ 1996 album “Dust” failed to capitalize on their post-Singles bump, Lanegan’s solo career became his primary outlet. His records dug even deeper into country, blues, and soul, their quieter presentation drawing out the raspy resonance of his voice.

On this understated beauty from 2001’s “Field Songs”, Lanegan pays ultimate tribute to the Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the hero-turned-friend who originally made the underground safe for blues-loving punks back in the early ’80s. “Kimiko’s Dream House” sees him complete the lyrics to an unfinished song Pierce had gifted him shortly before his 1996 death. And Lanegan sounds genuinely humbled by the opportunity, turning in one of the most gentle and graceful performances of his career.

Regarded by Lanegan as one of his best albums, “Field Songs” once again featured Mike Johnson, but was bolstered by Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd, who proves himself an innovative, idiosyncratic guitarist on this standout release.

The resultant record traverses dark blues, sweet lullabies and driving Middle Eastern-influenced indie, but the dusty troubadour tones of opener “One Way Street” ensured it quickly became a fan favourite and a staple on Lanegan’s setlists for decades to come. Johnson and Shepherd instantly conjure a Western atmosphere with their neatly nuanced chord arpeggiations, complete with lashings of tremolo and razor-sharp acoustic leads. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Lanegan’s keen drawl.

Just as his associations with Nirvana helped Screaming Trees get a leg up in the early ’90s, In 2000 he turned up on Queens Of The Stone Age’s “Rated R”, That said, his gruff vocals on “In The Fade” render it reassuringly potent. He also added back-ups to “Leg Of Lamb”, “Auto Pilot “and Homme’s personal favourite, “I Think I Lost My Headache“.

Songs For The Deaf” was a loose concept piece that barrelled through California, accompanied by fictional visits from small-town radio stations. As such, Lanegan’s oddly carefree vocals brought a Biblical weirdness to “God Is In The Radio“, while “Hangin’ Tree” was fairly dripping with barely concealed malice. He’s also to the fore on both the title track and “Song For The Dead“, intoning over the din like some malignant sprite. Signing up as a full-time member of the band the following year. He also squeezed in another project, joining buddy and Afghan Whigs mainman Greg Dulli in the Twilight Singers, before the pair struck out alone as the Gutter Twins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he quit QOTSA in 2005, though he continued to sing on their albums and occasionally tour with them. 

Lanegan’s Queens of the Stone Age tenure had a reinvigorating effect on his solo career both commercially and aesthetically. His first album to chart internationally, 2004’s “Bubblegum“,

Lanegan may have still been a member of QOTSA, but “Bubblegum” was the undisputed highlight of his solo career thus far. Not that he was entirely alone – PJ Harvey fetches up on “Come To Me” and pulsating duet “Hit The City”, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan add ballast to the wonderfully weary “Strange Religion“, and Josh Homme rams a knuckleduster into the clanging rock of Methamphetamine Blues. These redemptive songs of lust, longing and drug psychosis are at times scuffed and melancholic, at others inflamed and scary. Also aboard are old mucker Greg Dulli, QOTSA’s Nick Oliveri and former Mrs Lanegan Wendy Rae Fowler. The album is also notable for birthing Lanegan’s long-serving working relationship with producer and guitarist Alain Johannes, best known for his playing with QOTSA, Chris Cornell and Them Crooked Vultures. Besides his ear for a great-sounding record, Johannes is an awe-inspiring guitarist with a limitless vocabulary, 

Uprooted the earthy qualities of Lanegan’s previous solo releases in favour of busted drum-machine rhythms and atomic fuzz, as exemplified by the raucous industrial funk of “Methamphetamine Blues” Borrowing a page from the Queens’ supergroup playbook, Lanegan corralled an all-star cast for the album paving the way for Lanegan’s next iteration as the most voracious collaborator in rock.

Johannes would go on to produce all of Lanegan’s solo records from “Bubblegum” onwards, up until his final release, “Straight Songs of Sorrow“, in 2020. As the guitarist told this writer in 2015: “He has an incredibly timeless voice that can coexist with any orchestrations or styles – he brings them towards himself, so it just becomes him: it’s Lanegan.”

2012’s “Blues Funeral”, was his first solo album in eight years, sparked a period of prolificity, with four more albums – “Imitations”, “Phantom Radio”, “Gargoyle” and “Somebody’s Knocking” released over the following years, before his final collection, “Straight Songs of Sorrow”, arrived in 2020

Of all the artists Lanegan parterned with over the years, his most surprising remains Isobel Campbell, who was singing and playing cello for indie-pop aesthetes Belle and Sebastian back when Lanegan and the Trees were still lording over mosh pits at Lollapalooza. But rather than amplify the considerable contrast between Lanegan’s low croon and Campbell’s pristine pitch with typical he-said/she-said duets, their three albums together stake out common ground.

The third and best collaboration “Hawk” with the former Belle & Sebastian singer continued the duo’s fetishistic pursuit of the Old West, Campbell’s dust-caked songs and stirring arrangements provide the ideal vehicle for Lanegan’s lived-in growl, be it the acoustic blues of “You Won’t Let Me Down Again”, “Time Of The Season” or the boot-heel bluster of “Get Behind Me”. “Snake Song”, too, is suitably venomous, though Lanegan comes on like a bruised Appalachian romantic on “Eyes Of Green“, complete with fiddle solo.

Their vocals are layered into imperfect harmonies that can feel both charming and, at times, a little unsettling, with Campbell sounding less like Lanegan’s singing partner than a voice trapped inside his head. But this orchestral-soul delight from 2006’s “Ballad of the Broken Seas” emphasizes the pure joy and deep mutual respect in their odd-couple pairing, with the two making like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood performing on some late-’60s variety TV special.

Glaswegian guitarist Jim McCulloch is one of the unifying factors across all three records, lending cinematic chord sweeps and acoustic strums. You Won’t Let Me Down Again” is a perfect marriage between Lanegan’s rockier edge and Campbell’s ethereal folk, and further bolstered by the appearance of the Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha and Seattle guitar vet Jeff Fielder.

Where Lanegan’s solo records plumbed the darkest nights of his soul with an unflinching documentarian’s eye, Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers auteur Greg Dulli did the same through a seedy cinematic lens. After they guested on each other’s records, a full-on union between these two dark princes of alt-rock was all but inevitable.

The bonds between Lanegan and ex-Afghan Whigs man Greg Dulli run deep. They began playing on each other’s records around the turn of the millennium and toured for a while as the Twilight Singers. (Dulli also credits Lanegan with saving him from a potentially lethal cocaine habit.)

Their one and only album together as the Gutter Twins, “Saturnalia“, feels like the musical version of the long-awaited Pacino/De Niro matchup in Heat—a tense cat-and-mouse game between two wily veterans cast against an extravagant rock-noir backdrop. Had it been released, say, a dozen years earlier, the punchy “Idle Hands” could very well have turned out to be a bigger hit than anything the Trees or Whigs released at the time.

His solo debut “The Winding Sheet” saw Lanegan dispense with the noisy rockisms of his Screaming Trees persona, but his new career didn’t really begin to fly until this ravishing follow-up. The mood is almost uniformly dark, Lanegan essaying boozy tales of sorrow and defeat with a voice that sounds like a busted squeeze box. It’s as close as he ever got to making his own down-home album. Breathy whispers, strings and acoustic guitars poke through the porch light, while songs like “Pendulum” herald the arrival of Lanegan the literate poet, with a reach and breadth only hinted at previously.

This meeting of “kindred spirits” was a spinoff from The Gutter Twins, where multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood served as a touring member.

The resultant collaboration spawned two albums, both of which were predominantly led by Garwood’s spidery acoustic playing and deft electric touch: 2013’s “Black Pudding” and 2018 follow up, With Animals”. As a result, “Black Pudding” is an essential listen for all guitarists with even a passing interest in Lanegan: Garwood’s instrumentals are beautifully orchestrated and dextrously executed, casting an otherworldly spell brought back to Earth by Lanegan’s rich, gritty baritone.

In particular, “Mescalito” expertly weaves this bountiful six-string vocabulary with the drum machines favoured by the singer in his later years.

Ever since his Screaming Trees days, Lanegan was synonymous with a dark, dusty, dangerous corner of the American musical landscape. So it was a bit of a surprise to find him, on his ninth solo album, “Phantom Radio” ensconced under the grey skies of 1980s England. From the deep, chiming gothic guitar of opener “Harvest Home” to the chilly synths and Hooky bass line of “Floor Of The Ocean”, on “Phantom Radio” he channelled Joy Division, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Cure alongside Depeche Mode at their most downcast. 

And then, of course, there’s that voice. Always threateningly beautiful, if anything Lanegan proved here he was getting better with age – grittier by the year, and more soulful, while retaining the melancholic warmth that made his previous projects so special.

“A beloved singer, songwriter, author and musician he was 57 and is survived by his wife Shelley. No other information is available at this time. The family asks everyone to respect their privacy at this time.”

Mark Lanegan’s best albums marked him out as one of rock’s great voices. Here are the very best, from the Screaming Trees to Queens Of The Stone Age and beyond, via an extraordinary solo career.

Lanegan’s sprawling discography presents an artist constantly striving for the beauty that life so often denied him. He was always seeking new ways to unlock the sanctity of a song—be it through folk, blues, metal, hardcore, funk, trip-hop, or electronic music. Trying to condense a career as vast and varied as Lanegan’s into a brief list may be a fool’s errand, but here are eight songs that served as crucial pit stops on his never-ending road to redemption.

Comments
  1. Thank you for this. Beautifully written and informed fandom. We lost a great one here. Sing backwards and weep indeed

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