In the way Lambchop are oft want, FLOTUS [For Love Often Turns Us Still] doesn’t so much arrive with a bang as an amble. Whilst that may be worrying in less capable hands, with Kurt Wagner at the helm, there is little to worry about. Viewed by some as one of the most consistent American bands since the 1990s, Lambchop rarely disappoint. Conversely, they do not always thrill in the way pop music can.
This, the 12th full studio album since 1994 is pretty expertly put together. Louche vocals circle entirely laconic grooves with twangs and keyboards drifting in and out. All 11 tracks seem settled and within themselves – which is both a compliment and a criticism. Whilst one would be pushed to think of an element to change in the hauntingly mumbled ‘Directions to the Can‘, for example, it’s so well put together you wonder if it’s too easy. Perhaps that is what comes with a talent nursed for a relatively long time in pop terms.
None of these concerns should substantively take away from what is an excellent album. The blissed out ‘Howe‘ and its slightly glitchy sister song ‘JFK‘ are mellifluous without being cloying. They ooze out the speakers rather than frolic but do so in an utterly seductive way. Music to drift off to or muse on life from a ludicrously comfortable bed with the greatest duvet known to man. Sure, they throw in some vocoder vocals to ratchet things up a little on the quirkiness scale, but, essentially, the songs are simple beasts done incredibly well. Music to consume you rather than smack you about the chops or prickle the senses. Adult in all aspects.
FLOTUS is exactly as you expect it to be. Just very very good, without being startling. The sort of record that would fit in many people’s top 20 favourites, whilst, perhaps not going all the way and reaching number one with any great frequency. Whilst it is great, the feeling is there’s an even greater album in there, lurking. Moments within songs hint at a more twisted sensibility. The reverb-happy ‘Writer‘, in particular, seeming a direction of staccato oddness that is worthy of exploration. Even more so, the near 20-minute long closer, ‘The Hustle‘ takes on a life of its own with far more intrigue than otherwise present. The latter being something entirely at home in warm up set in any discerning club anywhere. Darkly mournful but a frivolous pitter-patter percussion pushing things along.
Wagner is undoubtedly a huge talent with a peripatetic back catalogue to be envied. For that reason, any material is perhaps judged by high and sometimes harsh standards. Possibly unfair but, whilst all very slick, this feels too much like cruising. Cruising, in a rather magnificent way, but, cruising nonetheless.