Lambchop: Mr. M
“Don’t know what the fuck they talk about” are the first words Kurt Wagner sings on “If Not I’ll Just Die”, the opening track of Mr. M, Lambchop‘s eleventh album. His frustration, though veiled by a lounge lizard croon, is apparent. Pain weighs heavy on him and, like everyone, he wants to make some sense of it. Described as a “collection of meditations on love and loss,” the album finds Wagner trying to make peace with the past, to varying degrees of success. Packing the albums eleven songs with references and allusions, Wagner is not as concerned with being understood as he is with paying tribute, as if acknowledging the memory aloud will either transport him back to happier times or guard him from the power the it holds over him. If Wagner is trying to excise as much romance as he can from all that nostalgia, it would be hard to fault him for it. After all, isn’t remembering the past as-it-really-was a truer way of honoring it?
Lambchop, while still a country band in spirit, sound traditional in a different way on Mr. M. Gone are the steel guitars for which Lambchop was known when it billed itself as “Nashville’s most fucked up country band” nearly twenty years ago. The ensemble’s sound this time around is of the jazzy variety, heavy on the strings and the piano, with the occasional accompaniment of female back-up singers. Sung in a breathy croon that could be likened to Yusuf Islam, when he was Cat Stevens, or Leonard Cohen, Wagner’s vocals are delivered with a cool, controlled detachment. They might be described as subdued when considering the emotional weight of the lyrics, further emphasizing the sharp contrast between sentimentality and reality. This is not to dismiss Mr. M as an altogether grim affair. The dreamy, uptempo chorus on “Mr. Met” puts paid to any argument for grimness, with its bright strings and lovely, angelic exaltation. There is always hope.
Mr. M is not only notable as Lambchop’s first album since 2008, but as the first album recorded since the death of Lambchop’s sometime collaborator Vic Chesnutt. Taken as a tribute to Chesnutt, to whom Mr. M is dedicated, Mr. M‘s sharp contrasts begin to make sense. Chesnutt, who was a functioning quadriplegic for most of his life, was known as much for his poignancy as his bitter, brutal honesty. It’s hard to tell if Wagner really understands “what the fuck they talk about” by album’s end, but in his talking about it, he elevates the conversation.
MP3: Lambchop “Mr. Met”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl
Lambchop: Mr. M