First the clanking rhythm, a hammer on an anvil, a suggestion of a guitar ready for the off, then a fat dirty bass kicks in, a man laughs, a woman says ‘hit it‘ and then we do get hit with THAT voice. You know the score by now, Mark Lanegan’s voice rolls into the song like a gaunt, desiccated, black-clad lawman riding into a tiny, God-forsaken, corrupt 1860’s Western town, after 9 days chasing an outlaw band through the Arizona bad lands, he’s leading 9 horses with a dead outlaw roped over the saddle of each and every one of them. No-one dares meet his eye, no-one dares look away.
Children don’t ya hear me comin’
Get up, Get up
Because I got to have the honey
And I don’t want to leave this heaven so soon
Rollin’ children keep on rollin’
Rollin’ children keep on rollin’
Keep the light turned low and the back door open
My love rain down like sugar so sweet
You say that in my accent and it just sounds daft, sing it in tones of weathered teak over guitar, bass and drums played by Josh Homme, swamped by lead guitar from Alain Johanes and Dave Catching and backing vox from a crowd including Nick Oliveri, Greg Dulli and Molly McGuire and you have a totally different proposition. ‘Methamphetamine Blues’ is a wonderful, buzzing, snarling slice of monster ‘Mericana, pitching us into a dark world of sudden hungers and hormones, salvation and sin. Lightning striking a gibbet. Pretty much standard for Mark Lanegan on a Tuesday night, you’d imagine.
This is the lead off from 2003’s Here Comes That Weird Chill, released on a 10″ as a taster for Mark Lanegan’s album, Bubblegum, released the next year. Subtitled ‘Methamphetamine Blues, Extras & Oddities’ it does what is says. Does it sound like cobbled together filler? absolutely no way, this is a great little mini-LP* which fits together well in itself and in the larger scheme of Lanegan’s work. Honest.
‘On The Steps Of The Cathedral’ is a funny little oddity, amid clips of sampled dialogue it sounds like someone playing the Sex Pistols’ cover of ‘Substitute’ over ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands’ … in a good way. Don’t try it at home though. This slams straight into a thuggish, growling cover of ‘Clear Spot’, with Alain Johannes providing all the sounds Lanegan sounds like a seriously pissed off Tom Waits on this one. ‘Message To Mine’ is a torch song, or at least would be is Homme and Oliveri weren’t providing the music, as such it comes over as an unbalanced tune, all sharp edges and shrill in-your-face production, good clean noisy fun.
All so far, so good but we get a touch of real class with ‘Lexington Slow Down’, which features (be still my beating heart!) a spoken word introduction**. Lanegan summons every inch of gravitas and care-worn worry at his disposal for this one, a man pleading to get off the merry-go-round of, what? life? drugs? touring? probably all of them. Over tasteful piano laid down by his best friend Keni Richards^, Lanegan pleads and begs for a break like a man on the brink. Although he does boast that,
I walked miles today, one for every year of my life
In this stinking fucking rain
Come on fella, that’d be hard enough in your early teens, you were 39 when you sang this! But 1537 bonus points for the swearing, anyway.
Another great winner for me is ‘Skeletal History’ which broods, smoulders and forces its way across the horizon with more than a touch of Zeppelin in its’ make up. Lanegan gets angry about the pointless death of a junkie sex worker on this one and he brings down the wrath like an Old Testament Jehovah. If this was an outtake then he got it wrong when he decided what was going on Bubblegum; I hath spoken. ‘Wish You Well’ is a resigned meditation on love doomed through a needle, the weight of all the ages bearing down on Lanegan’s shoulders like Atlas,
Your eyes are stone she said
Beautiful and dead
And I wish you well
The UK version of Here Comes That Weird Chill has the vocal version of ‘Sleep With Me’ that the American version does not, apparently. Shame. As you might have guessed this is all about sexy sexing, but it won’t shock you to hear that it sounds far more like a last desperate attempt to break through an excruciating chemical numbness and feel, rather than a celebration of getting jiggy with big-booty bitchaz and, umm, freaking the wild thing all night long. It’s a fairly menacing invitation, to be sure.
I hope I haven’t made Here Comes That Weird Chill sound like 25 minutes of unremitting grimness. In lesser hands this could be but Lanegan just has that voice, a thing of wonder and beauty undoubtedly, but also it always seems to convey that essential bruised humanity, which it needs. I’ve never spent an interminable morning suffering that weird chill, Jonesing for a fix, sitting on a concrete floor, staring down at my dead junkie girlfriend’s initials scratched into my arm with a penknife, but hey, I don’t have to, Mark’s sung about it for me so I can listen to it on the morning commute into my office. He’s no grinning death’s-head, there’s fun, kicks and grooves to be had here too. I’m not very fond of them but you could even view this as a QOTSA bonus LP, Lanegan’s vocals were always the tracks of theirs I liked best^^.
Here comes that weird thrill.
Now the cover, fittingly, is unrelentingly black and not very Lego inspiring, so I decided to use my mad design skillz and run it through the special 1537 Cover Art Redo-a-tron and, with a minor title change I got a much more upbeat result.
*not enough bands do mini-LPs anymore, like novellas I think they’re great; possibly due to a deteriorating attention span.
**please don’t make me tell you again how much I like spoken bits in songs!
^Yup, Keni Richards from Autograph – they met as neighbours in rehab.
^^He also really didn’t suck when I saw QOTSA live, unlike …