Not Forgotten: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul

For some, the convoluted release of Dark Night of the Soul (the record label shenanigans, the fact that Danger Mouse, Mark Linkous and David Lynch released a lavish booklet with a blank CDR on which you could burn copy from files that would not be nefariously downloaded (wink, wink)) almost eclipses the fact that this audio monument to collaboration is a very fine album indeed. During the recording of Dark Night of the Soul Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse were in very different places career wise. Mark Linkous had released a series of critically well received albums as Sparklehorse, peaking with 2001’s brilliant It’s a Wonderful Life, however it’s follow up, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain in 2006, was distinctly ho hum and it seemed that Linkous’s creative spark was waning. Danger Mouse by contrast had been steadily building his reputation, firstly with the attention-grabbing The Grey Album, then as a producer for the likes of Gorillaz, then as halves of DANGERDOOM and Gnarls Barkley. By 2008 Danger Mouse had marked himself out as one of the most creative and pleasingly diverse creative forces in the music business.

The announcement of the Dark Night of the Soul project caught many by surprise, especially when the involvement of David Lynch and the list of guest vocalists was announced, however many overlooked that Danger Mouse had already worked with Linkous on Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. Given that that album had arguably been Sparklehorse’s weakest to date, those that were aware of Danger Mouse’s involvement in it might have had misgivings about Dark Night of the Soul, however any nervousness that the new project would be a bust was misplaced.

Dark Night of the Soul opens with the slow burning “Revenge”, a gorgeous slab of Cosmic Americana featuring The Flaming Lips, and pretty much the last thing they were involved in that engaged me on any level. Wayne Coyne’s cracked and vulnerable vocal draws you into the song, effectively setting the mood and expectations for the rest of the album perfectly – Linkous and Danger Mouse providing a tailor-made musical backdrop for some of the finest acts in contemporary alternative rock and beyond. Such an idea could have resulted in a rather disjointed and piecemeal listening experience, however with the unmistakable vocals of Gruff Rhys fronting second track “Just War”, proof of concept is established, as is the fact that Linkous and Danger Mouse’s bespoke backing for each vocalist / guest act is top-notch, which given that those guests range from Suzanne Vega, to Black Francis of The Pixies, to Jason Lytle of Grandaddy fame, shows just how pleasingly diverse they were prepared to go, even within the sphere of alternative rock.

What is perhaps most striking about Dark Night of the Soul is that it provides a brilliant showcase for even those guests for whom I have no great affection for such as Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, who has never sounded better than on “Little Girl”, as well as those whose work I have been ignorant of, such as Vic Chesnutt. All guests feature on a track each with exception of Lytle, who provides vocals for two songs, and Lynch who features on another two. With such a range of guest vocalists, stylistically Dark Night of the Soul does leap around quite a bit, as you might expect from an album that features both Iggy Pop and Nina Persson of The Cardigans, but none of it is jarring. Linkous and Danger Mouse provide a strong unifying thread throughout, and it’s arguably the finest moment of both men’s careers, and it’s a real shame that Linkous taking his own life in March 2010 meant that it was the last thing they would do together.

Post-Dark Night of the Soul Danger Mouse’s career has gone from strength to strength, being an increasingly in demand as a producer and teaming up with another vocalist from this album, James Mercer of The Shins to form Broken Bells, who have released a couple of albums and confirmed that Danger Mouse, while a serial collaborator, is at least a brilliant one.

With it’s dense guest list, Dark Night of the Soul could have been a fractured mess, and just an excuse for Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous to get their alt-rock star mates around for an unfocused knees up. The fact that it is anything but that, is a tribute to not only the two main creative forces behind its creation, but to everyone involved.

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