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Nixon (Reissue)

Lambchop

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Album Review

Supposedly a concept album about the disgraced 37th president of the United States (though the lyrics make no recognizable statements about Richard Nixon's infamous life and times), Lambchop's fifth full-length was a powerful consolidation of the strengths they'd gained since their uncertain debut in 1994. Kurt Wagner's sometimes singing/sometimes talking vocal style and lyrics that were oblique to the point of seeming surreal remained a matter of taste, but his melodies hit a new peak in their beauty and evocative spirit as he merged countrypolitan country, smooth R&B, and chamber pop in ambitious and intriguing ways. And as Lambchop swelled to 13 musicians (not counting guest musicians, a choir, and the string section), the arrangements became increasingly sophisticated as Wagner and his collaborators used their rich palette of sounds to inspire a wealth of moods — from the easygoing groove of "Grumpus" to the luxurious sadness of "Nashville Parent" — and helped to clarify and strengthen that which seemed uncertain in Wagner's lyrics. And given the sheer ambition of this album, Nixon is a milestone in independent record making, music constructed on a grand scale that's richly satisfying without seeming overdone or tricked up simply for its own sake. And regardless of how one feels about Wagner's abilities as a singer, when he lets his heart do the talking on numbers like "The Distance from Her to There" and "The Book I Haven't Read," his sincerity is undeniable and affecting. Calling Nixon Lambchop's masterpiece is to ignore the fine work they'd done before and the similarly ambitious work that came afterward, but it is the point where they showed they were in full command of the tools and talents at their disposal, and its glorious eccentricities are as pleasurable as anything in their catalog. [In 2014, Merge Records released a remastered edition of Nixon with deluxe packaging and a bonus disc, White Sessions 1998: How I Met Cat Power, featuring five songs from a French radio broadcast. The radio session is essentially a Kurt Wagner solo set, playing four songs that would later appear on Nixon accompanied only by his guitar and some additional music beds playing on a cassette machine. While these performances strip the songs of the studio magic that helped make Nixon memorable, they also reveal how strong the tunes really are, still compelling in their most basic form, and Wagner is an engaging solo performer, though his falsetto is somewhat erratic in this context. If the bonus material is less than absolutely essential, it's certainly worth a listen for fans, and will add to the experience for those checking out Nixon for the first time.]

Biography

Formed: 1993 in Nashville, TN

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Touted as "Nashville's most f*cked-up country band" by their label Merge Records, Lambchop was arguably the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s. Their unclassifiable hybrid of country, soul, jazz, and avant-garde noise seemed at one time or another to drink from every conceivable tributary of contemporary music, its Baroque beauty all held together by the surreal lyrical wit and droll vocal presence of frontman Kurt Wagner. Although Lambchop's ever-rotating...
Full Bio

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