Mark Lanegan "Bubblegum"

I’m wondering if Tom Waits is on his way out. I’m thinking that, in anticipation of his death, he’s supernaturally invading Mark Lanegan’s body. The long, weathered, bony face is coming along. It appears he’s begun work on the soul patch, too. And the voice – Bubblegum starts with “When Your Number isn’t Up,” a dark, sparse dirge showcasing Lanegan’s increasingly graveled croon. By the time he rolls out the line “no one needs to tell you that there’s no use for you here anymore,” it’s apparent that Lanegan is looking at the world through a pair of Waits’ smoke-colored glasses.

This isn’t to say that he’s aping Waits – by the second track, it’s clear that Bubblegum isn’t all piano-driven barroom despair. But Waits-like themes, particularly the tales from the wrong side of life and the dissonance and odd percussion of his later work, poke their head up throughout the album.

Bubblegum’s distinctive element is Lanegan’s tactful use of the cast of guest stars that make up the “band.” PJ Harvey delivers a rather complementary vocal performance on the fuzzed-out “Hit the City.” Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin from Guns ‘N’ Roses and… well, that other band, add just the right amount of arpeggiated cheese to “Strange Religion” to highlight the song’s plaintive swing. And Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of Queens Of The Stone Age keep the album out of a coma by layering a handful of songs with their trademark rumbling beats and desert-ified guitar ramblings.

That’s just a sampling of the voices that show up on Bubblegum, but it’s clearly Lanegan who’s in control. Given the number of players used and styles explored, he holds it all together pretty well and with little exception: the garagish “Sideways in Reverse” doesn’t really work, though the similar, yet slightly dirtier “Death Valley Blues” fits in fine. But from the throbbing stomp of “Methamphetamine Blues” to the gorgeous Western-tinged “Out of Nowhere,” Lanegan maintains a cohesive mood and establishes further his relevancy as a solo artist.