T(F)IC #2: "Mr. M"

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Feb 11 2012, 1:31

Lambchop - Mr. M

Label: Merge Records
Link to purchase/more info: http://mergerecords.com/store/store_detail.php?catalog_id=834
Grade: A

To say that a record sounds "more like [insert band name here] than anything they've ever released!" is such a dry, 2383 year old comparison that music reviewers go to out of laziness, perhaps spite, and out of thinking that by mentioning this, they are instantly going to become the next big thing. The trouble of this catch-22, however, is that... well, it's all I could think to say to start this review and get my thoughts a'rollin' concerning Kurt Wagner and company's latest outing, Mr. M. There are "lush strings", (as the Merge lead sheet states), more of Wagner's opaque lyrics that could mean really, well... ANYTHING, and more of those delicate Tony Crow piano lines. After 20 years in the business, and more incredibly solid albums (here's looking at you, I Hope You're Sitting Down, How I Quit Smoking, Hank and OH (Ohio)) than the average band even comes close to, what else is there to say? Lambchop has made another solid record; one that doesn't require any gimmicks nor any big moves to get the point across, and still make a wonderful statement of intent that furthers their sound while still looking toward the past.

The first song that was released to the public, lead-off song If Not I'll Just Die is a perfect summation of Lambchop past and present; with beautiful restraint vocally and with a string arrangement to die for... not to mention Wagner dropping the F-bomb a mere 7 words into the song. SOME THINGS JUST NEVER CHANGE. ...and this is a good thing. 2B2 comes next, with a nice female backing voice and a double-tracked octave lead vocal that makes a five minute song feel like it goes by in 13 seconds. The third song on the album, and also the second song that was made available for streaming, Gone Tomorrow, is perhaps the closest that I've heard Lambchop as a studio band come to sounding like Lambchop as a touring band. This is a GREAT thing. After a pleasant three and-a-half minutes of the song, an extended jam (with what sounds like two separate drum tracks at one point (!)) takes the rest of the song home. Let's not forget the tablaesque drone that kicks in around the 4:30 mark, either...

After "Gone Tomorrow" ends, a string quartet kickstarts the next segment of the album on Mr. Met. The congas that come in towards the end are a welcome addition, as well as more of those great Tony Crow supporting lines on the ivories. The three songs that follow Mr. Met all plod along like a Lambchop album should. Gar is a beautiful instrumental, with female harmonies, a stop-start rhythm to the intro of the "chorus", and muted percussion that I could listen to on repeat until those cows a'come runnin' home. Nice Without Mercy features Wagner harmonizing with himself, which is something that I personally think should happen MUCH MUCH more, as it adds a nice power to the song. The tambourine which is mixed high in the left speaker also complements the movement of the song without being distracting. Buttons, the next track, also goes through the same formula.

The Good Life (is wasted), one of the few songs on the record under five minutes long, is a welcome reprieve from the longer stretches of songs that are in the middle of the album. Finger picking and droning electric guitars have never failed Wagner, and that theme continues through the rest of the album. Kind Of has one of the album's only moments with Wagner approaching the higher register (besides the aforementioned harmonies), and Betty's Overture is another VERY rewarding instrumental track, proving that even when Wagner steps out of the way, Lambchop is a force to be reckoned with.

The true shining moment of this record is the album closer Never My Love, which has a chord progression so saccharine, that it could cure the common cold if it so desired. The piano and strings counter-balance the guitar perfectly, as well as more of those wonderful female harmonies that close out the song.

Lambchop to me has never been a "singles" band, nor a band that puts too much attention on the "song". Which makes me enjoy and respect their releases as a WHOLE, and not as a collection of songs. Mr. M, thankfully, is more of the same. I struggle to find anything highly critical to pin on this album, which is truly a testament to the power and genuineness that this record emotes. It is not overly downcast, nor are the arrangements heavy-handed, nor is it just a re-hashing of older material in the Lambchop oeuvre; but it is a solid album, and a statement that Wagner is going to keep moving forward and releasing albums the way HE wants to be releasing them, and would be proud to present. If anything, this album drags in the middle a touch due to long run times and jammy sections not present on some records of yore; but this works to its strength in most aspects, as it presents the closest similarity between Lambchop Live and Lambchop On Record, which is something I am very grateful I have the opportunity to hear.

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