Mark Lanegan must be a terrible Cluedo player. His 11th studio album makes it pretty clear it was New Order, in the library, with the low-slung bass guitar. Possibly in collusion with Joy Division. Not that Somebody’s Knocking is limited to trying to re-create the mood of Manchester in the 1980s, but Playing Nero, Name and Number and She Loved You are so directly indebted that you can’t help but laugh at the brazenness of it. Why not rhyme fun with gun while you’re at it and make it a full house? As Lanegan has explained, though, his love of electronic music predates him being surly rock’s pinup, and it’s a thread throughout Somebody’s Knocking, albeit normally in the context of rock of some sort. This is very much not Mark Lanegan’s EDM album.
Sometimes there is the sense that he’s not so much alchemising the past into something new as reminding you of other, rather better songs: Night Flight to Kabul and Dark Disco Jag might both make you want to seek out Sisters of Mercy’s Dominion/Mother Russia instead. But, for the most part, Somebody’s Knocking is triumphant. If open-heartedness isn’t the term one would characteristically apply to Lanegan’s output, however manifest his virtues, there’s something boyishly excitable about this album that is very easy to warm to, not least because there appears to be no hint of trying to trying to be cool about it. Letter Never Sent, for example, powers along on a synthetic four-to-the-floor throb with gothy, psychy guitars circling on top, like one of those early 1980s singles by some chancers who fancied a bit of chart action too much to go the full patchouli. And it’s uproariously, fabulously fun, as is the similarly bang-bang-bang Stitch It Up.
The heart of the album, though, is Penthouse High, where Lanegan’s desolate croon is sent to the dancefloor, for six and a half minutes. The music swooshes around him, the lights blink and flash, but while Lanegan drops words and phrases you might expect of a euphoric club banger – “only faith”, “truest love”, “holy rain from up above” – that is not what’s really on his mind. “Don’t you come inside this house,” he warns. “There’s ghosts inside this house.” There are always ghosts inside Lanegan’s house. This time, at least, some of them are friendly.