Friday, April 22, 2011

Album Review: Screaming Trees – Uncle Anesthesia

The Screaming Trees released their first album on Epic records in 1991, right before what became known as ‘grunge’ became a seriously big noise. But this band were more grunge by association with the pacific Northwest, than their actual sound. The album initially felt disappointing, with many of the songs lost in Terry Date and Chris Cornell’s somewhat muddy production. It also saw the final stage of the Trees’ transition from a punky sound to a more classic rock sound.

Opening song Beyond This Horizon doesn’t really work, Mark Lanegan’s developing croon failing to rescue the track from sounding like a refugee from The Cult’s Sonic Temple album. Though drummer Mark Pickerel, on his final album with Screaming Trees, gives a fine performance here.

Bed of Roses fairs much better with Gary Lee Conner’s jangly guitars fitting in well to the overall heavy sound, though there is way too much reverb on Lanegan’s voice. The title track is probably one of the best here, Conner’s heavily wah-wahed (grammar?) guitar riff rocks hard and Lanegan is in fine voice, his voice rising from a deep croon about “dusted preacher in the dark” to screaming unintelligible lyrics over the guitar solo.

Many of the songs take a relatively simple chord progression and layer them with heavy, yet jangly guitars and Lanegan’s wonderful voice (Caught Between, Alice Said), and one of these, Lay Your Head Down, contains a wonderfully weedy recorder solo from Chris Cornell amid the raging guitars!

There are some fine slower tracks here also. Disappearing finds Lanegan singing at the top of his register over a descending melody featuring a trumpet, while final track Closer builds from a sparse opening to a slow anthem, leaving plenty of room for another fine Lanegan vocal.

They would go on to arguably greater heights with Sweet Oblivion and Dust but this often overlooked album is a strong sounding album, albeit with slightly less memorable songs than subsequent albums. It also bears witness to the maturing of Mark Lanegan’s voice to the powerful instrument that it has become.