Lambchop - What Another Man Spills

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:1998-08-09
Lambchop - What Another Man Spills
Lambchop - What Another Man Spills

In some alternate universe Nashville-based ensemble Lambchop are mega-stars selling out stadiums whenever they need a cash refill, while the Rolling Stones languish as an obscure bar band that fly well under the radar putting out a string of near perfect albums for a small but adoring group of fans.  Here on our planet though, those roles are reversed:  while Jagger is/was swaggering sex personified, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner in his structured trucker cap flirts with the topic but all skewed and scatalogical.  Jagger gets explicit on ‘Some Girls’, while Wagner just wants to “do the shabby thing” on What Another Man Spills’ ‘Saturday Option’.  Where the Stones scraped the shit off their shoes, Wagner’s bedraggled characters are more likely to have been the ones to have left it on the sidewalk in the first place.  But not always opposite sides of the coin, both Jagger and Wagner are students of R&B ephemera and both cover Frederick Knight’s Stax gem ‘I’ve Been Lonely For So Long’ - Jagger finding a growling groove and Wagner stretching it out and exploring its corners with his ever present sing/speak and busting out a falsetto to boot.  

With the 20th anniversary of the aforementioned What Another Man Spills quickly approaching, and with a vinyl remaster on the way courtesy of Merge / City Slang, what better time to hail Wagner’s band’s still expanding legacy.  Though if pressed I may not rank Spills as their top album, it’s definitely in my Top 5.  For a band with ever changing lineups and stylistic variations it is amazing how consistent the quality of Wagner’s output has been.  From their early quirkiness (aside from being Nashville-based not sure I ever quite got the Country music descriptor) to beautifully orchestrated mid-career mood pieces to their latest album’s Auto Tune experiments (not my cup of tea) Wagner never ceases to remain interesting, if not challenging.  

As with so many of their releases, if you let the carefully orchestrated songs sink in over multiple listens about any of their albums could end up your favorite.  Wagner is a master of taking what could have been a three minute pop song, stretching it out further to six, and making you wish it went on for nine.  He pulls that off brilliantly on both the opening ‘Interrupted’ and centerpiece ‘Scamper’.  The former song’s woebegone melody would be perfected on Is a Woman’s ‘My Blue Wave’, but is beautiful here as well with Flamenco guitar, angelic “ahhs”, vibraphone and horns.  The slow to unfold six-minute epic finds Wagner walking his dogs and interrupting something vaguely obscene going on in the alley.  After a smoky horn solo Wagner’s dogs proceed to relieve themselves as well, leaving the city a bit grittier than a few moments before.  Likewise, ‘Scamper’ with its references to a closet full of adult diapers and an old woman’s bladder may not exactly bring a revelatory moment it could bring a knowing smile to those already on the Wagner wagon.  

Beauty mixed with a bit of squeamishness is Wagner’s stock in trade and he has a full inventory on hand on Spills.  The album title itself and Vic Chesnutt’s cover art (changed a bit for this release)  bring a whiff of suggestiveness and Wagner continues to deal that out with his lyrical snippets.  The highlight of the album (and one of my all time Lambchop favorites), ‘Saturday Option’ is simply gorgeous with its harmonious blend of of pedal steel, strings and perfectly placed bass heavy horns.  But never one not to fuck with a beautiful moment, it is here that Wagner with an able back-up assist wants “to do the shabby thing with you” and rhymes “wood/screw”, “lily/dew”, and “beef/stew” keeping things left of center.  An oddly lovely song for a “make out” playlist for the mildly disturbed.  The shorter ‘Magnificent Obession’ is also perfectly constructed with more horn charts and Wagner earnestly crooning along.

I tend to like Wagner’s more orchestrally complex numbers the best (here once again aided by the skilled Lloyd Barry’s arrangements), but there is plenty else on display.  After covering three (!) of the relatively obscure songwriter F.M. Cornog’s (aka East River Pipe) songs on the prior album, there are two more here including the energetic race of the mainly instrumental ‘King of Nothing Never’.  The pace of which is matched by another cover of Dump's ‘It’s Not Alright’.  And so as to leave no stone unturned, Wagner also makes successful runs at R&B on Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Give Me Your Love’ and the previously mentioned ‘I’ve Been Lonely For So Long’.  Though the Mayfield track may be better known and grabbed more kudos when Spills was originally released, I prefer the slinky version of ‘Lonely’ a bit more - especially as Wagner does a deadpan Barry White inspired monologue mid-track.  

It’s hard to go wrong with just about any Lambchop studio album, and they’ve also had a multitude of outtake albums, EP’s and live sets as well.  With my favorite album, Is a Woman, and Nixon getting the deluxe treatment recently, it would have been great to see more material here on this re-release.  But nonetheless, the occasion of Spill''s two decade anniversary is as good as any to celebrate this truly one of a kind band and Wagner as its titular leader.  If Spills doesn’t stand head and shoulders above all their other albums, most would be hard pressed to make it to mid-neck against its quality.  But again that’s as much testament to Wagner’s consistency over a long period of time and 1998 was one of the band’s banner years, also serving as Vic Chesnutt’s band on The Salesman and Bernadette.  And though Lambchop may never be added as option “C" to the eternal Beatles vs Stones query, they have their own legion of rabidly loyal fans ready to defend their scruffy charms. 

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Wagner is, in fact, like a modern day countrified Curtis Mayfield sometimes, and otherwise almost too subtle for his own good. The early Lambchop stuff was excellent and your review spot on Mark.

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