mon 18/10/2021

Album: Lambchop - Showtunes | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Lambchop - Showtunes

Album: Lambchop - Showtunes

The always mordant Kurt Wagner reaches new levels of gloom

Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner has suggested that the title of this album is semi literal: that he wanted to write “something akin” to classic, Great American Songbook show tunes, rather than his usual country-tinged style. If so, it’s for a rather gloomy sort of a show.

At the beginning, it does suggest you’re going to get some high drama: the rather Leonard Cohen-ish “A Chef’s Kiss” would certainly fit in a middle of a musical in the “how did I get here, where will I go?” bit where the protagonist is alone in the spotlight on a blank stage. But where you might expect such a number to pick up to high emoting, despite its anthemic chords it remains at the reflective stage throughout – and so does the album.

Wagner is as sonically inventive here as ever. There’s unorthodox but fascinating brass and string arrangements (“Fuku”), there’s fragmented and strung out trip hop beats with wobbling vocoders (“Blue Leo”), there’s sampled opera singers interlaced with Wagner’s own vocals (“The Last Benedict”), and throughout there are flickers and wisps of abstract sound, like ghosts or dust bunnies in the chambers of his mind. He’s still as literate and literary as ever too: quietly startling lines like “like a habit you still come around” or “there’ll be bloodshed by the time you leave the office” or “like somebody’s mother you sang the blues” ripple past constantly. But the pace never picks up beyond dirge.

Maybe death is on his mind. Lambchop songs have always had a pretty mordant tendency, but here everything seems to be about passing time, impermanence. There’s an odd sense of being doomed, yet stuck in stasis, maybe reflecting some of what’s been happening in the world over the last year, but not an easy listen by any means. The album is barely over half an hour long, but in the wrong mood it can feel much longer. There certainly aren’t any of the big choruses Wagner is capable of – this isn’t a show you’ll walk out of singing the final number, that’s for sure – and little levity all round. That said, it’s full of compelling detail, and if you can hack the funereal gloom it’s well worth repeat listens. But be warned: as a “show” it’s much more Beckett than Bernstein.

@joemuggs

Listen to "Fuku":

There are flickers and wisps of abstract sound, like ghosts or dust bunnies in the chambers of his mind

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters