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Lambchop - Damaged

Lambchop, Damaged

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

LAMBCHOP has always been an acquired taste for me but his eighth studio album, Damaged certainly marks an improvement on his Aw C’mon/No You C’Mon double album of 2004.

Born out of an intense personal period for Kurt Wagner, during which he suffered ill health and a cancer scare, the album feels like his most profound yet personal work to date. It’s slower in pace, haunting in quality and packed with telling observations about the state of the world as he sees it.

Many of the songs are built around piano-based melodies, while the work of his ever-changing collective is much more low-key than normal. But the decision pays off, allowing Wagner’s distinct, deep vocals to take centre-stage and his stories to genuinely resonate.

The opening track, Paperback Bible is a beautifully-crafted piano-based offering that’s actually inspired by a National Public Radio Show called Swap Shop, in which listeners try to buy or sell items on air. Its melancholy, almost cinematic background music doesn’t, on the surface, seem suited to the lyrics – but somehow it works, serving to underline the continued ambition of this Nashville-based outfit.

Second track Prepared is another thought-provoking tale, sombrely relayed, about a misunderstanding between a couple. Wagner sets the scene well, chronicling how “she was standing by her mirror brushing our her curls and braids”, before dropping such telling lines as “turning to her husband she so carefully said, my dear what put that idea in your head? Voices cried in silence or crept stealthily away, left shimmering with rigid lips compressed”.

There’s a strong country vibe surrounding The Rise & Fall of the Letter P, another melancholy tale of relationship uncertainty that boasts some good guitar work and a subtle beat. Wagner’s vocal style is once again strong enough to leave a lasting impression.

Occasionally, the album’s pensive style threatens to become overbearing, or depressing (such as I Could Have Waited Here All Day), but it does reward the patient listener and repeat airings. Much of what Wagner has to say is worth considering, while his observations seem stronger for having survived and emerged from his own personal nightmare.

Other tracks to keep an eye out for include Crackers, an upbeat effort when set against the context of the rest of the long-player, and the hypnotic, even beautiful Fear, which contains some of the strongest melodies and most upbeat lyrics on the album (“Dear, be resolute, be forthright, be indicative of all that’s black and futuristic sea creatures that nibble at your toe”). The strings that run throughout are particularly poignant, working well in tandem with the pianos and country guitar riffs.

Damaged may not win many converts among the Kurt Wagner sceptics but it does mark one of the strongest albums of his career and is certainly a work to be cherished by any long-term followers of his songwriting craft. It’s made all the more noteworthy by his own personal struggles.

Track listing:

  1. Paperback Bible
  2. Prepared
  3. Rise And Fall Of The Letter P
  4. Day Without Glasses
  5. Beers Before The Barbican
  6. I Would Have Waited Here All Day
  7. Crackers
  8. Fear
  9. Short
  10. Decline Of Country And Western Civilization