Frustrated fans wondering why Kurt Wagner took four years to make this 11th Lambchop album are offered an intriguing insight, as the record finally gets underway. "Grandpa's coughing in the kitchen," sings Wagner on If Not I'll Just Die, the beguiling opening number. "But the strings sound good, maybe add some flute.
And how do you get the cups out, from up there?" It's a seemingly bewildering collision of thoughts, which, on closer inspection, cleverly illustrates the distractions of working from home.
And, yes, the strings do sound good, as they will throughout Mr M. Initially regarded as an alt-country act, Wagner's collective turn to what he calls "psycha-Sinatra", a grand string-laden setting for some deeply personal songs.
Wagner had taken a lengthy break after the death of his friend and contemporary Vic Chesnutt in 2009, and the loss of loved ones is a recurrent theme, with ongoing relationships also subject to close scrutiny. Unafraid to tackle apparently humdrum topics, his words actually remain wonderfully fresh and pleasingly devoid of the generic lyrical flotsam now so prevalent elsewhere.
Hence, the devoted following. Mr M may not be the ideal starting point for newcomers, in truth - those tremulous vocals can take some getting used to - but devotees will wallow happily in these luxuriantly slow, unapologetically self-indulgent songs. If this is the last Lambchop record, as Wagner has suggested, it serves as an apposite epitaph.
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