thu 01/12/2022

Album: Lambchop - The Bible | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Lambchop - The Bible

Album: Lambchop - The Bible

Spiritual salves and soulful dismay in Kurt Wagner's prayer for a crumbling America

Lambchop’s 1997 breakthrough album took its title from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Borrowing The Bible is a more purposefully brazen gambit, as Kurt Wagner tries to locate Americans’ spiritual hearts, in a shaken, besmirched and brutalised nation. It’s a record of reflection, reconciliation and quiet rebellion.

Musically this is Americana in the loosest sense. Alt.country’s splicing of punk attitude with Nashville roots, which Lambchop embodied back when they were a real, unwieldy band and not simply a brand name for Wagner’s opaquely humane poetic thoughts, ceased to satisfy him several albums back. Embracing electronica and the vocoder’s mutation of his distinctive, reedy voice, he’s searched ever further out in his quest to elude creative exhaustion. He anyway always seems to sing from a darkening Nashville back-porch, heartaches and shadows closing in.

The Bible is a subtly implicit state of the nation album, from the opener “His Song Is Sung”, with its curtain-raising prelude, orchestral art music which sounds like a sad sunrise. Wagner enters an office as if inspecting a crime scene, to find a body slumped despairingly at a desk, and a legal pad with encoded secrets. Scenes shift, seasons turn, memories comfort and burn, the interstate splits a city like the Berlin Wall, and glitchy brass fanfares burst against Wagner’s vocal, which admits: “No one’s edgier than I.”

“Little Black Boxes” is desiccated, digital funk, containing a lover’s devotion; “A Major Minor Drag” a slow-burning, societal torch song. Country music is now a strange, shimmering presence – the steel guitar winding through the lullaby harmonies of “Dylan At The Mouse Trap”, Wagner confessing breaking into “Hank Williams’ casket” to weave his visions in “Every Child Begins the World Again”, and “That’s Music”’s “ballad of a country music nerd”, which confronts the genre’s NRA-loving conservatism.

The vocoder is lightly applied, more natural change in vocal register than synthesised rupture, as phrases form suggestive layers on shifting musical ground. “It takes an army/We’re not an army, we’re not advancing,” Wagner sings over the calypso sway of “Whatever Mortal”, as female soul singers cry for “mercy”, and decry the status quo. “Police Dog Blues” makes this dismay explicit, as police racism is viewed through a prism of vignettes, and that soul chorus insists: “I’m furious.” Where Nixon (2000) made Lambchop’s UK name with its expansive country-soul vision, these gospel-soul singers embody a battered community’s righteous faith.

“So There” is a secular, imploring prayer “to be gentle, to be honest, to be kind/To welcome the unexpected with an unsatisfied mind.” It’s a prayer The Bible answers, finding mystery in each soul’s heartbeat and each day’s dawning. It’s an album of deep-seated majesty, diverse musical enquiry, buried secrets which suddenly flower and gossamer threads of unexpected connection. This music enacts a social contract under threat.

Wagner seems to sing from a darkening Nashville back-porch, heartaches and shadows closing in

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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