I am deluged with new albums and their accompanying breathless press kits every week. That means that I am constantly confronted with the claims that Artist X
And the thing that strikes me is that Kurt Wagner and his motley crew of cellists and pedal steel players have come a lot closer than most to living up to those claims. I can count on one hand the number of musicians/bands who have truly come up with a new sound in the past ten or fifteen years -- Sigur Ros, Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, Beck. And Lambchop. And although there's nothing wrong with variations on a theme, when you've been following the themes for more than four decades, as I have, it really is fairly remarkable to stumble across something new.
Lambchop sound like no one but themselves. They've certainly evolved over the years, and Damaged sounds little like the heavily reverbed countrypolitan music they made early in their career. Now they're making quiet, pensive orchestral music that is drenched with melancholy. Except when they're funny, and they're frequently very, very funny. Or when they toss in the pedal steel, as they also do with some regularity. It's schmaltzy country and western lounge music about cancer, mortality and penises, delivered by a guy who whispers more than sings. It's hopelessly uncommercial. It's hauntingly beautiful. And it's weird, but it's not so weird that you can't see it being massively successful in a world populated by sentimental, balding, middle-aged hypochondriacs. But hey, that's my world. Kurt Wagner is #1 on WHIT, the station that plays for an audience of one. Well, okay, maybe not #1. But Top 5 of the decade. And Damaged is one more reason to celebrate, and marvel, and check for pre-cancerous moles.