Lambchop were truly without precedent when they came straight out ofNashville way back in 1994. Oddly, they were initially seen as justanother alt.country band. That’s like suggesting that Nirvanawere just another grunge act. There was always much more to them than afew musical motifs and a geographical location.
From the beginning KurtWagner could write songs that showed his contempories up as callow andself obsessed. Add to such gilt edged song writing a musical collectivethat played with the power and restraint of a Stax house band and youhave musical heaven.
Wagner’s ability to ring poetry out of the mundane, turn the prosaicinto art has been a constant theme in the bands work. The opening trackon Damaged, Paperback Bible, is a classic example of this. The lyric apatchwork of verbatim calls to a radio show swap shop where peopletrade unwanted items. It finds beauty and pathos in the discardedflotsam and jetsam of everyday life. So far then so Lambchop, but reallyit’s a false start as Damaged is the most personal record that KurtWagner has composed.
Since the sprawling Aw C’mon / No You C’mon Wagner’s life has beentouched by major illness. First a mouth cyst so aggressive that itneeded to be repaired by a transplanted bone from his hip followed by abrush with cancer. That this has resulted in a little moreintrospection seems quite natural.
For all its use of the first person narrative and the subject matterDamaged is not a somber or morbid listen. The music is full ofwonderful light touches; the filigree of bells and electronics at theend of Prepared (2); the bass and piano interplay on Crackers; theswirl electronic ambience on Fear; the perfect use of stringsthroughout.
If it wasn’t for Wagner’s denials that Damaged isn’t his break uprecord in the style of Bob Dylan‘s Blood on The Tracks then youwould think that his marriage has suffered like his health. The lyricsare oblique, blurred Polaroid’s that give away just enough informationto gauge the mood but keep you coming back to unpick their secrets. Youcan sense, feel, a fraying of the fabric of life.
“Now it’s time toterminate our trust, even though to you and me that doesn’t mattermuch,” cuts through Short, a bleak admission of a relationship shatteredby infidelity. Fear contains the couplet: “I know your bored, letstake a walk and bring the dog,” set against a piano melody that is likea sad reflection, a smile in the bar room mirror. It sums up thosemoments that turn love into indifference.
For a writer with the skill of Wagner the use of the first person isjust a tool in his arsenal. The striking I Would Have Waited All Daywas written for Candi Staton‘s recent LP. Based around a pithyobservation lyric about the day in the life of a house wife, it is sungfrom the woman’s perspective. The crystal pedal steel guitar andtrombones add a southern soul feel to the track. As a testament to thebands skills it can’t be bettered. Somehow the subject matter or thedelivery don’t jar, which is quite some feat. It proves that Wagner canslip inside the head of his subjects with a novelist’s precision.
Are they a country band playing alt.rock or an alt.rock bandplaying country? These questions are pointless. They are simplyand sublimely Lambchop, and we are lucky to have them.