Lambchop

Damaged
(Merge Records)

Albums without lyric sheets can frustrate fans who want to memorize the words they're singing and pore over their poetic meanings. But with Lambchop, it's best not to worry about such specifics; this melancholy country-operatic Nashville collective led by Kurt Wagner has always expressed itself more sublimely in its baroque arrangements than in its front man's utterances. (When the band claimed that 2000's inscrutable Nixon was actually a song cycle about the former president, some supporters assumed that the concept-album claim had to be a put-on to fool the gullible.) But on Damaged, Wagner's dejected non sequiturs, usually intoned as opposed to sung, come closer to dramatizing fully realized scenarios as the songs' graceful swirls of strings and piano achieve unbearable poignancy. Still, the man loves his ambiguity: While "Prepared [2]" captures the whole of a failing marriage in a couple's bedtime routine, a sorrowful number like "Paperback Bible" could work just as well as an instrumental — the random observations about dogs, TVs, dresses and handguns only hint at the narrator's unfulfilled desires, leaving you wishing that Wagner had strenuously edited his free associations into something a little more concrete.
 
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