Ever since their 2003 debut, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Soulsavers have pursued a singular vision. The duo of Rich Martin and Ian Glover have been on a “quest” of sorts. Not in the sense of trying to find their muse, or even in a spiritual sense. Call it a quest, or a journey if you like, but to this listener, it seems the trip itself is the point, not the destination. In many ways, their fourth and latest recording The Light The Dead See is in some respects a dispatch from their travels thus far.
Soulsavers are a musical collective who will never be accused of repeating themselves. Tough Guys Don’t Dance presented a dance-oriented, electronica infused collection of songs, which they have steadily moved away from with succeeding albums. Their second and third recordings, It’s Not How You Fall, It’s The Way You Land (2007), and Broken (2009) both featured the vocals of the inimitable Mark Lanegan. Since his debut as vocalist with the Screaming Trees, Lanegan has developed a persona as deep and soulful as that of his idol Johnny Cash. The combination of his “whiskey for the holy ghost” voice, with the music of Soulsavers proved to be a truly fascinating one – making their albums together sound like nothing else out there.
For such a (seemingly) private man, Lanegan has participated in a bewildering array of various projects over the past decade or so, including his (excellent) recent solo album Blues Funeral . This may or may not explain his absence (save for a cameo vocal on “In The Morning“) on this latest Soulsavers album. At first glance, I thought their choice of Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan to be a strange one, but as it turns out, it was a stroke of genius.
Whether by coincidence or design, the 12 tracks that make up The Light The Dead See continue the Soulsavers “story” in a most appropriate way. The opening instrumental “La Ribera” sets the tone nicely. While steering away from being pretentious, it nonetheless introduces what follows with a serious, yet quite darkly beautiful motif. The approach perfectly mirrors the tenor of The Light The Dead See.
Unpretentious is indeed the watchword here, as this project could have very easily slipped into that dreaded black hole. Ambition sometimes outstrips talent, and is often disguised by the appearance of “depth.” Fortunately, Soulsavers are much smarter than that. There are serious, and at times emotionally difficult thoughts being expressed here. With the vocals of Dave Gahan, Soulsavers manage to articulate these sentiments, without ever coming across as sophomoric.
The Light The Dead See is quite obviously meant to be listened to as a whole, and it works best that way. There are a few standouts I would like to mention however. For sheer dark beauty, I found “Just Try,” “Take Me Back Home,” and “Bitterman,” to be hauntingly powerful. And lest I am making it sound as if The Light The Dead See is all bleak, it is not. The “big” guitars of “Gone Too Far,” are a great example of ways in which the band “lighten” things up a bit. I also hear a little brighter tone in “I Can’t Stay,” and the closing “Tonight.”
Where it all comes together best for me though is during “Presence of God.” On this track in particular, the vocals and music blend in an almost heartbreakingly beautiful manner. The lyrics and musical tone convey an aura of unmistakable sorrow. Yet there is an almost palpable sense in the way Gahan sings the song, that somehow, through sheer force of vocal will, that he will be able to rise above the challenges he sings of. It is an incredibly mature performance, and one which very few performers would be able to pull off.
Lest there be no doubt, The Light The Dead See contains a wealth of brilliant performances, both musical and vocal. It is a record I will be coming back to many times I believe, as there is a great deal going on in each of these songs. While nobody is saying that Gahan “replaced” Lanegan, or that there was ever to be a single vocalist for Soulsavers, he has done a magnificent job with them on this album. The Light The Dead See is an outstanding piece of work from all participants, and is an album that is every bit as strong as anything Soulsavers have ever released.