Lambchop - TRIP
When there was no chance of a tour that would make money for indie veterans Lambchop, the band’s leader Kurt Wagner decided to plug the time into an album that under different circumstances may never have been made.
Challenging each of the band’s members to pick one song to cover and take the reins on the recording, Wagner relinquished the creative control he has maintained throughout their career in an experiment to see where it may take them.
The result is TRIP, a six-track voyage through warped Motown covers, melancholic indie, and deep cuts from the American songbook, which sees them take the spirit of the originals and twist them into shapes only Lambchop could imagine. It may not have the singular vision that made albums like Nixon a critical hit, but along the way there are plenty of surprises.
TRIP kicks off with the closing track from one of the best albums of the noughties, as Lambchop take on Wilco’s 'Reservations’ to devastating effect. Wagner’s vocals are stripped bare to reveal the vulnerability in his voice as he delivers lines like “how can I convince you it’s me I don’t like / and not be so indifferent to the look in your eyes”. Background noise, tape hiss, and the sound of piano pedals are all intact, putting us in a dreamy headspace for the rest of the album. The harmonies in the chorus could bring you to tears.
It feels like the perfect fit for the band, as they excel at creating a huge sense of space and filling it with emotion. The first five minutes or so hit the mark, but in the end they stretch it a little too far.
With a 13 minute running time, the white noise lingers around too long after the harmonies end, building an atmosphere that will inevitably be wiped out by the tracks that follow. It’s kind of like the nuclear fallout comes before the blast – a bold reversal of how we might expect an album to start, but one that doesn’t pay off. There’s a reason why it closed Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – because nothing can really follow it.
When it comes to Motown, the band fulfil Stevie Wonder’s promise to go with the ‘Golden Lady’ to a place far away – probably further than she's ever been before. Taking a fraction of the insatiable melody that made the original a hit, they slow things down to a crawl and twist its Cuban rhythms into an odyssey of psychedelic proportions. Wagner’s part-human, synthesised vocals waver over the mix, making it feel like a natural evolution of Lambchop’s sound and without doubt one of the best tracks of the album.
Equally compulsive is the zero-gravity rendition of ‘Love is Here and Now You’re Gone’ by The Supremes, which bounces off the walls as if the band were hooked on flying saucers; the 70s garage rocker ‘Shirley’ by Mirrors, and the desperate, unreleased Yo La Tengo ballad ‘Weather Blues’ that brings the album full circle to a bittersweet finish.
Everything here is worth a listen, it just doesn’t feel quite right in one go.
We already know Lambchop are accomplished musicians, but this kind of experiment puts the limelight on the creative talent of the rest of the band, introduces us to new songs and asks us to re-evaluate those which are familiar to us.
In some cases the band take the spirit of the original (‘Reservations’) and run with it, and at other times completely betray that spirit to stunning effect (‘Golden Lady’). Lambchop deconstruct the tracks that influenced them the most and rebuild them in their own image, which is as much as we can ask from a set of covers. It’s not the cohesive, fully-developed masterwork that we may be used to from the band, but what do you expect? It’s a covers album, and most of it is still great.