Mark-Lanegan-Imitations-608x608Mark Lanegan has never been busier, but the abundance of projects he has taken on over the last two years hasn’t diluted the downtrodden intensity of his work.

If anything, his identity as a musician has flourished, and despite much of his work being collaborative he still manages to make his presence felt alongside equally individual artists and produce tracks that bear the hallmarks of his evolving vocal and lyrical style.

So, with some of his most accomplished work behind him in recent times (2012’s stunning Blues Funeral and Black Pudding alongside Duke Garwood), if ever there was an opportunity to indulge in some experimental cover work, this is it.

Imitations is firmly designed to be a classical album in that it is a purposefully bare, stripped-back affair, from the front cover design to the track selection and musical arrangement. This comes across as an intentional break from Lanegan’s louder, grinding, heavier blues and electro-infused offerings of late.

However, in his effort to step into the realm of the minimalist and orchestral, Lanegan has unfortunately come up a little short. There is a handful of great tracks here, that’s for sure, but they are holding up a greater number that seem, unusually for him, unmemorable and lacking in presence.

The songs that do stand out here do so spectacularly and will no doubt be cherry-picked for mixtapes and music players. ‘Flatlands’ is one of them, a luscious acoustic offering from the intense, little-known singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, written with a relatable sincerity that makes the lyrics almost too raw to delve into.

Lanegan clearly feels this rapport, as he delivers ‘Flatlands’ with such magnitude that it is impossible for the listener to untangle the lyrics from their own personal narratives.

‘Mack the Knife’ also gets it right – something of a surprise when crooner-style classics such as ‘Solitaire’, ‘Lonely Street’ and ‘Pretty Colours’ fail to really shine. These tracks feel too close to the originals and lack the experimentation required for them to take on any deeper meaning here. ‘Mack the Knife’ though, feels brilliantly unsettling and all the more malicious for being executed so delicately alongside a creeping, fingerpicked guitar.

Continuing his foray into foreign-languages after ‘Gravedigger’s Song’ on Blues Funeral, Lanegan has tried his hand at all-round artist Manset’s entirely French track ‘Elegie Funebre’. This demonstrates that, while nurturing a reputation for being collected, calm and mysterious, Lanegan is not too above it all to take a risk.

With Imitations, it is the tracks that are brooding, dysfunctional and drenched with the bittersweet that find instant synergy with Lanegan’s vocals and delivery. A guy gingerly discussing murder, a woman begging to just be held in someone’s arms rather than receive presents – it is among such scenarios that Lanegan never fails to excel.

Not that musicians should stay in their comfort zones. But for the most part, the acoustic approach on this album, twinned with a selection of songs that are renowned for being somewhat tame anyway, hasn’t really broken any new ground.

However, Lanegan is an accomplished musician with a unique identity and while this material is by no means as intriguing or engaging as ‘Blues Funeral’, ‘Black Pudding’ or any of the Campbell collaborations, it is still well worthy of attention.

Also, when Lanegan tours Imitations this autumn, complete with soaring strings and carefully chosen venues, this delicate collection of songs is likely to pack more of a punch in the intensity of a live setting.

7 out of 11

Release Date 17/09/2013 (Vagrant Records)

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