CD Review of It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land by Soulsavers
Recommended if you like
Massive Attack, Mark Lanegan, Doves
It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


he title of the second album by British electronica duo Soulsavers uses the oft-undefined indefinite pronoun, assumed to translate as “what matters.” To an English major, seeing a sentence like “It’s not how far you fall, it’s the way you land” can raise ire similar to that induced by the usage of a non-word like “normalcy” (it’s “normality,” dammit!) or writing an inane lyric like “the only time I feel alright is by your side” (“by your side” is a place, not a time, dammit!). But the inference in the title is clear enough – what matters to the Soulsavers is a spiritual support for the fallen.

Had Johnny Cash survived another five years, maybe somebody could have convinced Rick Rubin to pair him with Soulsavers to be the voice of the sonic spiritual pillow that is It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land. The novelty of hearing Cash supported by musical descendants of electro-Brits Massive Attack would have turned just as many heads as his cover of “Hurt,” if not more. But since he’s already, in a manner of speaking, off to place from which this album’s inspiration resides, the natural alternative is Mark Lanegan, who has become an alt-rock Johnny Cash of sorts. He dresses in black, so he’s got that one down. His baritone voice places him in the same vocal range as Cash. And both have a strong love of spirituals. As a matter of fact, two of this set’s handful of covers, Spain’s “Spiritual” and the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” were covered by Cash. The former is awfully close to the Cash version (from his second Rubin-produced set, 1996’s Unchained) in terms of tone and key, while the latter is worked out in a subdued, funereal manner, not unlike Cash’s last recordings.

Were it not for the two instrumentals (three, if you count the hidden track tacked onto the end of “No Expectations”), the disc could easily be considered a full-on Lanegan venture. As it is, with his name credited on half the songs, his voice on eight of them, and one of the other two covers on the album being his own “Kingdoms of Rain” from his second solo album, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, the disc still counts as a major entry in Lanegan’s catalog. His image of late as the roving mischief maker searching for salvation through song is strongly reinforced here, and since the death of Cash, he can now claim the title of “coolest dude to sing about Jesus.”

Yeah, yeah, the disc is credited to the Soulsavers… and as tasteful as their tracks are, they simply cannot compete with Lanegan’s presence. He’s far from generic as far as singers go. They are supporting Lanegan, not the other way around. Even a song featuring Doves’ Jimi Goodwin (“Kingdoms of Rain”) providing some backing vocals in a sonic landscape that is well suited to the music of doves will pass by with poor Jimi barely noticed. And the Neil Young cover, “Through My Sails” is taken over by Lanegan’s presence. By all rights, Lanegan should have co-billing on the album. It’s as much his as it is the Soulsavers’. Perhaps spiritual support was more important to him, too, than putting his own name out there or explicitly defining an indefinite pronoun.

The lesson learned here is: if you’re featuring Mark Lanegan as your band’s guest vocalist across almost an entire album, yes, the album will likely be a knockout, as this one is. In exchange, however, be prepared for an eclipse.

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