Kurt Wagner (not to be confused with Nightcrawler) is an interesting man. Understated, classy, witty , these are a handful of words that could be used to describe the front man of Lambchop. They have been rattling around the music industry since the nineties now, and listening to their most recent effort Mr. M that’s no surprise. A band that can release eleven albums over the course of eighteen years like Lambchop has done is a band that people like, a band that people keep coming back to. Mr. M just feels like that kind of album, its honed, and that’s a good thing. Wagner’s voice waltzes, tap dances, and two steps all over the record. He comes across as a down to earth Willy Wonka type, starting off as strange and foreign, but then growing into someone relatable and not so distant. There is a certain contrary nature to Lambchop that makes them instantly familiar but completely novel at the same time, and how they managed to do that I am not sure.
Lambchop can be described as alt-country, though I'm not sure why you would want to describe them that way. You could also describe them as soul or lounge music, but again, why would you want to? This may very well be the most self defacing thing Ive ever written as a reviewer, but it’s just music let’s leave it at that. And with that said, it is pretty good music too. The melodies on Mr. M are naturalistic and very free flowing. They amble on at their own pace, which more often than not is a comfortable stroll. In terms of composition they are minimalistic; instead it is the arrangements that are Lambchop’s bread and butter. Acoustic guitars a plenty, strings, all sorts of percussion, bass, soft cooing backup singers, even a few tasteful electronic sounds lend their strength and varying talents to the record. The variety in the instrumentation serves as a good way to highlight the albums only true constant, and that is Wagner’s voice and lyrics. He manages to keep it interesting when it needs to be interesting, backing off too when the music needs to take over, something that happens far more often than you would expect going in to Mr. M.
And then there’s the tone which is certainly worth discussing. Mr. M can be chalked up as being in the alt-country realm of downtrodden narrators, but there is a little bit more to it than that. If I had to compare Mr. M to something Tom Wait’s Closing Time would be it. Closing Time is a collection of what I would call pseudo-noir drinking songs for lonely people, and Mr. M feels that way too. What I give credit to Lambchop for is modernizing the old formula a bit. Instead of drinking in some run down bar at odd hours of the night, this feels a little more like drinking and going on Facebook at odd hours of the night. Regardless, Mr. M is an album to howl at the moon to, for late night lamentations and back alley blues. But the record doesn’t force those feelings onto you, they come naturally, and that’s why it works so well. Kurt Wagner isn’t out to break your heart after all. No, you managed to do that all on your own. He’s there when you need him though, and that’s pretty cool.