Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Album Review: Screaming Trees - Buzz Factory

On this album, their fourth released in 1989, Screaming Trees began to sound less like the somewhat shouty band they had been and started to become a little more melodic. Mark Lanegan had started to actually sing rather than roar, and the album shows the first signs of his undoubted vocal talents. The guitar attack of Gary Lee Conner became a little more refined here as classic rock influences became apparent. Indeed his guitar work is very disciplined and concise throughout, with very few wasted notes, almost like an extension of the rhythm section.

Where the Twain Shall Meet is a kind of sludgey, droney guitar anthem. The guitars are quite downtuned here and sound really good, smouldering away with the requisite slacker attitude. Black Sun Morning is a great early grunge anthem. Lanegan’s vocals here are all over the shop as he bawls his throat out, but the squalling guitars keep everything together, leading into an unashamedly big chorus. Van Conner’s basswork is particularly good in this one, and the whole thing finishes up with some unexpected piano work almost taking it into the realm of Roxy Music.

Too Far Away is about as classic rock as it gets. It kicks off with a repeating guitar riff which would be fairly unremarkable until Lanegan spreads his giant vocal chords over the proceedings. His vocal here is a million miles away from Black Sun Morning and he sounds great. The song closes with some fairly pleasing “ba ba bas” over more squalling guitars. The guitars get dirtier for Subtle Poison, before things calm down a bit for Yard Trip #7, a kind of Doors-y slowish song.

Before the next song, a clip of a radio appearance is played (“The question will be what kind of trees you are; the answer will be 'Screaming Trees'"), then the band kick into the jangly power-pop Flower Web, which features another great vocal from Lanegan.

Towards the end of the album the band come on a bit like a heavy version of the Doors, on tracks like Wish Bringer and especially End of the Universe, which definitely takes some influence from The End, especially Mark Pickerel’s drumming in the middle section, and some of Lanegan’s vocal ‘mannerisms’. But the band lock into a great heavy groove on this and other tracks.

This is the first real 'Lanegan as proper singer' record. The problem with the Screaming Trees is that they were too heavy for mainstream pop/rock in the late 80s, but not heavy enough for metal thus falling between two stools. They didn’t really sound like anything in the embryonic grunge scene either, and record companies therefore had no idea what to do with them. But quite simply, this is a really good hard rock album. Pretty meaningless title though.