Kurt Wagner’s sixteenth release sees him ploughing his own furrow, producing yet another unvarnished gem of a record
Lambchop have come a long way since the days when they were dubbed the epitome of modern Americana with albums like Nixon and Is A Woman back in the early 2000s. Kurt Wagner, Lambchop’s creative mastermind, has always been a restless, prolific artist and with The Bible being his sixteenth studio release, he shows no sign of slowing down.
The Bible continues the foray into experimental electronica that 2016’s FLOTUS album delved into, but there’s so many ideas and genres explored that it becomes almost dizzying to listen to. Opening track His Song Is Sung has a grandiose classical piano introduction, together with a subtle string section – it’s a brooding introduction, with lines like “I smell the age on your right hand” and “I confess I have no purpose” conjuring up ideas of mortality and legacy.
The fact that such an austere opening is followed by a full-on disco number in Little Black Boxes should demonstrate how many ideas are packed into The Bible. It’s not a conventional floor-filler admittedly – Wagner’s voice distorted beyond recognition by a vocoder – but there’s a euphoric edge to the song that becomes almost hypnotic the more you listen to it.
That euphoria isn’t typical though – this is an album with weighty subject matters on its mind. Wagner is chief carer for his elderly father, and being in his sixties himself, there are several allusions to ageing and fatality (“it’s awful when you leave this world” sighs Wagner at one point on A Major Minor Drag). It’s an introspective album, but thanks to Wagner’s inexhaustible appetite to explore new directions, it’s never a boring one.
Police Dog Blues, for example, is a total departure from anything Wagner’s done before – over its six-minute running time, it touches on gospel, jazz and blues, with a ’80s style slap bass appearing now and again, and ending with a squealing guitar solo. The song’s subject matter – it was written after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 – gives it a brooding, portentous atmosphere.
The Bible is the first Lambchop album to be recorded with external producers (Ryan Olson of Poliça and Andrew Broder, who worked remotely on the band’s last album Showtunes) and was also recorded in Minneapolis rather than Wagner’s home of Nashville. This seems to have pushed the band into new territory – Whatever Mortal’s jazzy introduction of bass and piano, and the contrast of the gospel-style backing vocals to Wagner’s world-weary downbeat voice is like nothing Lambchop have explored before.
For all the genre-mashing and collaborative approach though, some of The Bible’s most affecting moments are when Wagner goes minimal. Dylan At The Mouse Trap is a throwback to Wagner’s alt-country days, full of steel guitar and a beautiful piano melody, while So There brings to mind some of Nick Cave‘s more magisterial moments, a piano ballad complete with surreal lyrics about dancing bears and puppies. When Wagner’s voice almost breaks at the line “to be civil, to be gentle, to be honest, to be kind” it’s almost impossibly moving.
The Bible, like a lot of Lambchop albums, probably won’t be to everyone’s taste – some may find the constant electronic treatment of Wagner’s perfectly decent singing voice to be a bit grating, for example. Yet it’s the sound of a man ploughing his own furrow, and producing yet another unvarnished gem of a record.