Listening to Kurt Wagner’s records has never been a particularly cheerful experience, but Mr. M is certainly one mournful affair. The album is dedicated to Wagner’s long-time friend and collaborator Vic Chesnutt (who died in 2009). It shows; there’s a feeling of sadness and loss in every note of this stately, exquisitely crafted, heavily orchestrated (how else?) collection.
It’s easy to accuse Lambchop of being monotonous and dull. But while I’m often inclined to agree with that, there’s no denying Wagner’s sense of melody and fragile, heartfelt voice – all very much on display on Mr. M. The songwriting hasn’t changed much, though with the exception of the lilting ‘The Good Life (Is Wasted)’ there’s precious little alt.country here. Mostly slow, soulful sounds for a sad and rainy day.
The three opening songs are all brilliant. Drenched in poignant lyrics and morbid mood, they sound beautiful, understated and almost exalted. ‘Gone Tomorrow’ is particularly impressive, boasting one of Wagner’s greatest vocal melodies ever (you could even say catchy). Admittedly the whole thing gets somewhat patchy after that, what with all the self-indulgent orchestration and two good but unspectacular instrumentals. A little unsubstantial, though you’ll be moved by the heartbreaking lyrics of ‘Kind Of’ and frail, gorgeous, Tindersticks-evoking ‘Nice Without Mercy’.
As ever with Lambchop, there’s very little to dislike about this stuff. Amid the strings and the gentle tingling of acoustic guitars there’s lots of deep and thoughtful music. Wagner is occasionally trapped by style and mannerisms, but that’s a curse of being an immaculate composer and arranger. Try this record for yourself, and see what the warm, soothing chords of the opening ‘If Not I’ll Just Die’ can do for you. If nothing – then I’d advise to stay away from Lambchop, from this album and from Kurt Wagner. If there’s something to it – then Mr. M might well become the special record it so clearly is.
Released on 20th February 2012 by City Slang