Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mark Lanegan: Part III - Sweet Oblivion

This is part three of my piece on Mark Lanegan's career.

Part I is here.
Part II is here.

Ah, 1992. I’d just graduated from high school and was finally getting into music that wasn’t complete shite. It was in late 1992 that I first heard Mark Lanegan sing. Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-based film Singles was out and the soundtrack was in the grubby little hands of all of us who had jumped onto the Pearl Jam bandwagon (The soundtrack features two at-the-time-unreleased songs from Pearl Jam). Buried in the second half of the record was the song “Nearly Lost You” by the Screaming Trees.

Nearly Lost You

I liked it immediately, but it would take the urging of a good friend at a later date to finally convince the ignoramus that is me to pick up the Trees’ 1992 masterpiece, Sweet Oblivion.
Said Lord please give me what I need
He said there's pain and misery
Oh sweet oblivion feels alright
It sure does. From album opener “Shadow Of The Season”, the last line of those lyrics neatly sums up the feelings evoked by the Trees at their best. Like most of the music that hit the mainstream from Seattle in the ‘90s, Sweet Oblivion was dark in lyrical content and in musical mood. But something about Lanegan’s vocals soaring over the churning guitars and pounding drums was uplifting and cathartic in spite of, or perhaps because of, the darkness. I guess that’s what separates great music from the pedestrian – that undefinable “something” that elevates certain songs or albums above the rest, causing a primal, gut reaction in its listeners. Sweet Oblivion is loaded with songs of such caliber – ”Nearly Lost You”, “Dollar Bill”, “Winter Song”, “Butterfly”, “No One Knows” and the epic, mind-crunching album closer, “Julie Paradise”. In addition, like all great albums, the entire record fits together like a well constructed puzzle, each song absolutely necessary in its position in the sequence.

Dollar Bill
Julie Paradise

Of course, the true test of music’s “greatness”, for me at least, is how it stands the test of time. Sweet Oblivion still is as compelling today as it was when I first heard it over a decade ago. At the time the album was recorded, Lanegan’s voice had matured to the point where he’d become one of the best rock singers around. It still makes me angry, in the way that only a fan who feels one of his favorites has been cheated of well deserved fame and fortune can be, that the Screaming Trees never achieved the level of mega-fame that Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden did.

Click here for PART IV.

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