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DAMAGED • Lambchop

Angst and humor seldom go hand in hand. Such is not the case with the latest from the "Nashville's most fucked up band," Lambchop. Damaged is a combination of '60s pop, countrypolitan, and Brit pop that finds lead singer Kurt Wagner and the band's ever-evolving lineup engaging in subtle atmospherics underscored by off-beat lyrics. The otherworldly tenor of the album is heightened by Wagner's oft-whispered baritone vocals and the band's refusal to adhere to traditional arrangements.

The opening track, "Paperback Bible," finds Wagner tying everyday things together lyrically to emote desperation. Set to a minimalist backdrop consisting mostly of strings and strummed guitar, "Paperback Bible" begins what is effectively an introspective journey. "Prepared" has a '50s feel with its piano melody and string swells, while "The Rise and Fall of the Letter P" floats with pedal steel, soft rock instrumentation, and a slightly off-kilter arrangement. "A Day Without Glasses," by contrast, brings the band's countrypolitan influences into the mix, with Paul Niehaus' pedal steel and Wagner's tremolo guitar adding an ethereal feel to a tale of confusion and love, in which the protagonist weighs the good and the bad in his relationship. This theme continues into "Beers Before the Barbican," a love song about a backstage encounter.

"I Would Have Waited Here All Day," with its moseying juke joint melody and lyrics of everyday love, begins the second half of the album. "Crackers" is perhaps the album’s most country song, with an old-school-country-meets-California-country-rock feel, while "Fear" finds the band returning fully to chamber pop territory with cinematic strings and poetic lyrics before dissolving into feedback. "Short" is a mellow pop song that soars while remaining tender, due in large part to Wagner's soft vocals and tremolo guitar. Only the closer, "The Decline and Fall of Country and Western," bears any rock markings. Dreamy piano and string interludes alternate with power chords to accent Wagner's thunderous, slightly diabolical vocals. If "The Decline and Fall of Country and Western" does not entirely fit with the rest of Damaged, it is still a sublimely devilish song that deserves to be heard.

Damaged may fail to grab you by the throat upon first listen, but the collection is a solid outing that combines irony and introspection with musical innovation. The overall product is emotive and intellectual, poetic and ethereal. 
• Tracy M. Rogers

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