Towards the end of this extraordinary memoir, Mark Lanegan – singer-songwriter and former frontman with Seattle proto-grunge pioneers the Screaming Trees – gives us an extraordinary snapshot of the reality lower down the totem pole ... These 20-odd pages are one of the most compelling accounts of squalor and misery ever committed to paper. In comparison, Bukowski at his most fevered reads like Somerset Maugham. Not that the rest of the book is exactly comic relief ... With sickening inevitability, he is forced to watch as almost every one of his peers slingshots around him. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana all rocket off to multi-platinum glory while success continues to elude Lanegan like a buttered eel, to borrow the late Dave Cavanagh’s memorable phrase. It is one of the great strengths of this book (and, you suspect, one of Lanegan’s as a man) that there is not a flicker of envy or bitterness about any of this ... Some passages are so wonderfully thick with addict-speak that, as with Burroughs, you’ll read them two or three times to figure out exactly what is going on ... Where Lanegan wins in his songs is also where he wins on the page: in the darkness of the confession booth, with nothing held back. On that level, the book is a triumph.
...fearsome and brutal ... Sing Backwards is a masterpiece of self-loathing and score-settling, a nothing-but-warts memoir that has more in common with books by Charles Bukowski and Jim Carroll than those by fellow musicians-on-smack Keith Richards and Motley Crue, which seem lighthearted by comparison ... at its best when examining the ruthless mechanics of a junkie musician’s daily life: where to hide syringes...on a tour bus during border searches; the terrifying prospect of going through withdrawals during a snowstorm or transatlantic flight; how the citrus needed to break down European heroin can be found by scavenging lemon slices from abandoned hotel room service trays; and the various black, noxious fluids excreted by junkies in withdrawal, described in enough detail to chill even the most devoted gastroenterologist ... devolves from a brutally candid tell-all to a numbing catalogue of miseries once Lanegan discovers crack ... In rehab, Lanegan — previously the kind of guy who rolled joints using pages ripped out of a Bible — experienced a religious epiphany, not mentioned again.
The annals of rock are littered with used needles and the damage they have done. Few drug enthusiasts can have sunk so low, however, as singer Mark Lanegan, whose eye-popping memoir explores hell’s many sub-basements, and lived to produce good writing ... There is no way this man should be alive ... At one dire point in this harrowing tale, Lanegan’s sex worker/addict companion – known as Shadow – disappears. He eventually learns from a news report that she has fallen victim to a serial killer. Whether this is the single most awful thing to happen in these pitch-stained pages is a close call ... The writing here is mostly rugged, male and often blackly malevolent ... Lanegan asks for little pity: he confesses to a slew of extraordinarily unsavoury acts. All his bad luck, self-sabotage and radical candour is delivered in an eloquent, matter-of-fact tone. There is real regret for the relationships he ruined and a fierce and idealistic loyalty to the music that moves him ... It might be a spoiler to reveal how Lanegan’s salvation eventually comes and who, unexpectedly, foots the bill for his rehab. This is a narrative packed with surprises, most not of the good kind. But there is room in this heavy, heavy book for quite astonishing turns of kismet.