IT TAKES A brave or stupid singer or player to embark on a covers album in 2013, such a surplus is there of unwanted and unloved music, both originals and supposed ‘interpretations’. Which is, I guess, why Lanegan opted for a self-deprecating title for his covers project. Imitations should really come with a question mark at the end, as if to say, “you decide.”
Lanegan has mapped an odd, wavering course through the rock firmament, serving time in several groups (Screaming Trees, Queens Of The Stone Age), collaborating on projects with a diverse set of players, and churning out eight solo albums along the way.
This writer was particularly enamored with last year’s raunchy Blues Funeral, less so with his recent pairing with multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood on Black Pudding. One constant, it seems, in Lanegan’s universe, is change; and Imitations certainly prevents the predictable from taking hold.
Lanegan owns a very distinctive set of pipes, and it’s primarily the grain and texture of his voice that gives this album its character. It’s a voice that sounds parched and world-weary, but its mentholated tones always come with a twist of croon, and Imitations shows why: along with unsurprising covers by Nick Cave and John Cale, for instance, he chooses songs by the smooch singers he grew up listening to, Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra.
It’s an unusual set of songs that, through deft arrangements, holds together well, even though ‘Deepest Shades’ (for instance) by his former collaborator Greg Dulli is from a different star system to that of the perennial ‘Autumn Leaves’, which closes the album.
Attempting a songbook classics like that could be risky, but he carries it off, as he does his left-of-field rendition of ‘Mack The Knife’, and that great Nancy Sinatra/Bond track, ‘You Only Live Twice’. But perhaps the most successful transition to Lanegan-style is his take on the Hall & Oates song, ‘She’s Gone’, which accentuates its gorgeous allure.
Ultimately, Imitations is a footnote on a footnote, but as such, it’s a most enjoyable one. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 3.5/5