The voice of Mark Lanegan has painted a demur portrait; a gothic world clouded by smoke and heavy with forbidden sensuality. Throughout the days of grunge with oft-ignored foursome Screaming Tree through a bevy of solo and collaborative releases, that ebon-drenched larynx has belched forth a graveled croon that is as dark as it is uplifting. We are given a glimpse into history as it happened, not as the victors have scribbled.
It’s this ability to tap into the primal–the sense to understand humanity at its most vulnerable–that attracts many to Lanegan’s point-of-view. His visceral descriptions of the physical world leave their mark, but rarely has the melody been more than a secondary emotion to the wrought-iron expositions of the master lyricist.
Despite tempered pairings with Greg Dulli, Josh Homme and Isobel Campbell, it’s taken multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood (a relative unknown to anyone who ignores inserts and booklets) to match the timbre of Lanegan’s soul in song. Black Pudding is thick with the bonds of brotherhood. Garwood’s darkness melds with Lanegan’s mysticism, the pall of forlorn guitars and spectral drones drenching the pair’s first outing in viscous tribulation.
But anyone adept at tapping into the human psyche is equally skilled at capturing the hopefulness of despair; the noble pursuit of the silver lining, no matter how obscured. “Cold Molly” is the eye of the storm, a funk-soul-blues dirge disguised as an up-tempo blessing. Much like Dulli tried to conjure with Lanegan in The Gutter Twins, Garwood makes good with a fractured melody as hot New Orleans summer and as cool as a Mississippi delta strut. The western themed “Death Ride” is typical Lanegan imagery, but Garwood’s background din signals the danger approaching. It’s reminiscent of Screaming Trees’ “Gospel Plow,” but far more realistic in its depiction of death than Lanegan’s elder tune.
It’s a trick played throughout the album at just the right moments. When the robotic tempo of “Mescalito” threatens to crumble the album’s first half, the ghostly buzz of “Sphinx” recaptures the mood. And though “Cold Molly” doesn’t disturb the story, it does disrupt the ride. But the ethereal “Shade of the Sun” reins both back.
The funny thing about history is how often society forgets its implications. Much of the same can be said about Lanegan. Few speak of Screaming Trees in the same company of lesser but highly recognized alterna-acts. A string of deeply personal solo albums are glossed over for his prettier collaborations. Yet Black Pudding is distinctly Lanegan, even as it is accurately Garwood. These two are kin, bonded by context and possessed by valiance. With these men, the past rests in the hands of capable storytellers speaking in allegory and truth. But above all else, Black Pudding is an album of modern times. Doomsayers are well aware of the cliché, Lanegan and Garwood hell bent on not repeating the same mistakes.