Lambchop – Damaged


“And for this, I’m only partially prepared.” This key lyric from the masterful “Prepared (2)” says a lot. This is a perfect way to sum up the initial experience to Lambchop’s ninth studio album Damaged. No amount of reading, viewing, or listening will prepare you for the overriding dourness of the album. And though the music rarely (if ever) hits the gut, the lyrics almost always deliver that certain pang of recognition, of knowing.

“Paperback Bible” starts things off with leader Kurt Wagner naming off items from NPR’s “Swap Shop” radio program. “I have always thought/That handguns were made for shooting people” could come off as revolutionary in some hands, but in Wagner’s sublte baritone, they simply represent what he’s singing. No more, no less. The tremendous “Prepared (2)” picks things up with a great meandering bassline, and a solid structure. “The Rise and Fall of the Letter P” continues the structure, with some aching steel guitar thrown in for good measure. Through the first three songs, the sonic template has been laid. Acoustic guitars, electronic flourishes, wandering basslines, strings, and drums make up the overriding noise on the album. “A Day Without Glasses” starts off with a great shuffle beat, but fails to take off. All this despite the fine lyrics including, “It’s not like I can change things in a day.” “Beers Before the Barbican” continues the trend.

The album regains momentum with the gorgeous “I Would Have Waited All Day”. Their is a moment of recognition in the lyric “My favorite hour of any day/Is the one before you get home/A fading sense of anticipation/It’s something I’ve come to know.” An actual vocal hook, make this a highlight. The short, nonsensical “Crackers” takes the momentum from “I Would Have…” and turns it into a burnished memory. Thankfully, “Fear” with its double tracked vocals and lyrics concerning illness, and “Short” with its story about a story, regain the momentum. The album finally hits in the gut with the closing “The Decline of Country and Western Civilization” which finds Wagner bellowing “Damn their looking ugly to me, damn!!” Numerous crescendos and changes of pace make this closing track a fitting end to a difficult album.

It is near tragic the troubles that Kurt Wagner has seen before making Damaged. But, the listeners benefit from this change, which finds Wagner looking inward rather than outward. The downfall of the album, though, is in its constant sonic template. It never really builds steam until the end, when it is almost too late. Damaged is not a Saturday night party record. The ideal place to listen to it is alone, with candles. On the surface, the album fails from its sameness, but closer examination reveals an album of quiet desperation, and hope. And in life, that’s really all we have.