Back in the day, (some may recall) Lamb were untouchable for their innovative blend of freaky jazz, devotional folk vocals and glitchy, acrobatic drum ‘n bass. Signing a six-album deal on the strength of three tracks, theirs was a popularity that somehow, for a time, stepped out of the underground and over the threshold into pop culture, thanks in part to an amazing self-titled debut and follow-up albums which inspired a wave of imitations. With both Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow’s strong solo careers, their temporary break between 2004-09 and the long pauses between their last two releases, 5 (2011) and Backspace Unwind (2014), the prospect of new Lamb raises high hopes. Sadly their creative itch seems to be well and truly scratched on seventh album The Secret Of Letting Go.
With an effusive press release that sets the album up as Lamb’s best work to date, there’s a sense throughout that Lamb are maybe looking for closure, and with the least amount of fuss. Returning to the stripped-back, spacious sound of the first album was a conscious decision, arising from the experience of reconstructing the songs for a live performance, during the Lamb 21 tour in 2017. Describing the new album as being about the “space between sounds”, there are parallels with the distance that comes across between Rhodes and Barlow in terms of their styles and, as they declare themselves, in the songwriting process: “The Secret Of Letting Go [title track] came about after one of our many creative bust-ups. I won’t go into the detail of this particular argument but we came to a point where we were considering jacking the whole thing in. It wasn’t the first time we’d come to that place and it probably won’t be the last…” says Rhodes. The tension between their “yin-yang” personalities and musical backgrounds has, in the past, fuelled their success because it added a certain rawness to the outcome. All that roughness is polished out, with a couple of exceptions, by the production glow. There is no sense of immediacy and passion, no gripping, unpredictable rhythmic seizure you can let yourself go to.
When Lamb engage their more experimental and fiery collaborative side, things pick up – notably with the vibe-heavy vocals and rattling claps of ‘Moonshine’, and the title track. “The secret of letting go is forgetting to hold on”, sings Rhodes over a liquefied amalgam of two songs purposefully written separately by the pair, then brought back together. Heartfelt insights in Rhodes’ words are suspended in the sparse arrangements, with their sudden, intersecting vocal harmonies. ‘Armageddon Waits’ has an interesting underpinning time signature, and promises something special with its opening gradual build and subterranean bass line, but it never really kicks hard or long enough through the gears. The accompanying video (below), shot in Goa where the album was partly recorded, is a bit of a strange and bland juxtaposition to the music. ‘Silence Inbetween’ is a beautifully swaying song, rich with the warm textures and atmosphere of strings. Yet even this jars in the overall scheme of things, too indulgent perhaps. Closer, ‘One Hand Clapping’ is more of the same, adding nothing at the end, but a brief sense of frustration.
‘The Secret Of Letting Go’ is out now on Cooking Vinyl.