'Here's a little story 'bout regret
Doesn't have an ending, it's not finished yet
But from what I know this far, it's just a peep at who we are
And an incomplete sentence that you said'
(Kurt Wagner, 2006)
It's been a two year wait since Awcmon/Noyoucmon but now we have the fruits of Lambchop's labour in the form of their new album, Damaged. I was fortunate to be able to get my copy a couple of days ahead of the release date, thanks to those brilliant fellows down at Diverse Records in Newport. Having listened to it a few times already today, here are my initial observations.
Damaged is 10 songs long with 'interludes'. These linking, rather airy and brief pieces, give the album an organic feel as one track bleeds into the next. That's not say we are dealing with a prog-style concept-monster here but there does seem to be common threads between many of the songs. There is the problem of true communication between people:
'Turning to her husband she so carefully said
My dear what put that idea in your head?'
And there are the ludicrous demands that relationships inevitably put on individuals:
'And I promise that I won't live without you
And I promise that I won't be that mean
These stupid promises are accumulating
In a grossly unwholesome scene'
As usual, Kurt Wagner places all these human problems in the context of the smallest parts of everyday living, which makes the tragedy all the greater. In 'I Would Have Waited Here All Day', a song that was originally written for a Candi Staton album, we see the detritus of our lives in the coffee cups and dirty dishes left in the sink. The female protagonist's lover walks 'dripping wet from a midday shower' and dries off his 'dick'. Makes you understand why Candi turned this one down. The song is marvellous and is soaked through with the pain of our unfulfilled expectations.
Wagner's eye for the wonder of the mundane is beautifully realised in the opening track, 'Paperback Bible', where he seems to be compiling an inventory of 'stuff' to acquire and other 'stuff' to get rid of, along with things that other people have to offer. Is this a weird market of the lost? It's all accomplished in a near-conversational style that wraps the song in a loving, demotic tongue:
'Yeah I'd like to find
A twenty seven inch color TV
Has to be non working
An RCA cause I need the parts'
Musically, the album is something of a step back to the minimalism of Is A Woman but the sound is enriched by the predominance of strings (of guitar and 'quartet' variety) over piano. This tends to sweeten the bitter pill in the lyrics but to good effect. Where Lambchop's musical landscape lies these days is less easy to define than in the purer 'country-soul' influences on What Another Man Spills or Nixon but this is not a criticism. Lambchop are confident in their ability to take the volume and the emotions 'down' without losing any feeling in the process. In fact, the quieter they get, the more effective they are. The secrets of Lambchop music often rest in the smallest of detail. You are meant to listen hard.
Damaged is a more than worthy addition to the superb catalogue of idiosyncratic music that Lambchop have developed since the early '90s. Long may they carry on whispering in our ears.