Missing the point and not even doing it well
TRIP is another pandemic cover session produced in the wake of canceled tours and dwindling cash, which is a perfectly valid strategy for staying afloat and keeping the rent paid in the midst of the circumstances. However, it pales in comparison to either Larkin Poe or Madison Cunningham, as it does not capitalize on any homespun charm, strip things back for an intimate experience or play to Lambchop’s strengths. It continues the mistakes and bloat from last year’s This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) with too many vocal effects, stretching these songs to their breaking point, and horrible sequencing.
One doesn’t make 14 records without a couple of gems, and Lambchop is capable of quality. Even though the organic textures and pretty orchestral arrangements have been discarded with time in favor of a loungey atmosphere or post-rock structure, 2016’s Flotus proved there was merit in Kurt Wagner tinkering with studio effects and post-production trickery. On the other hand, TRIP is at its best when these qualities are brutally suppressed. It’s twice as long as the ’60s honky-tonk icon George Jones’s original, and the steel guitar whooshing in the background gets old quickly, but “Where Grass Won’t Grow” is carried by gorgeous piano and Wagner’s haunting crooning. “Weather Blues,” an unreleased song from the bassist of indie icon Yo La Tengo, has too many vocal echoes, but Wagner’s performance is anguished and excellent, and the popping crackle and the humming distortion near the coda are well-integrated post-production effects in comparison to the rest of the album.
The most baffling misstep comes on the opener, “Reservations,” the closing song to Wilco’s acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s already patient-testing at seven minutes, yet the final four minutes of arbitrary electronic noise worked as a natural fade out of an otherwise spectacular record. Lambchop’s cover is nearly twice as long, and they don’t add more depth to the lyrics or interesting textures or noises beyond intermittent stick-tapping and other inconsequential stuff. Furthermore, it opens the record, so it doesn’t work as a palette cleanser since there is nothing to cleanse yet.
Even when Lambchop starts to approach quality, Wagner’s obsession with his studio tools kills the mood. “Golden Lady” is a Stevie Wonder original with really pretty acoustics and piano and a cool shuffling patter, yet Wagner’s vocal is multitracked with metallic vocoder vocals for no reason. “Shirley” takes the proto-punk edge of Mirrors and turns into these bright and upbeat rock song with indie-pop ready elliptical riffs, yet it can’t but through in mushy, crackling percussion and a robotic hook. “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone” captures the spacey synths and four on the four floor beat of The Supremes, only for the vocals to be produced in a cavernous way so as to appear foreboding and dangerous. There’s an attempt to match the almost spoken word sections that Diana Ross delivers, yet there is none of the swell and emotion to contrast it.
The point and charm of these pandemic covers were to give the illusion that they were recorded with little assistance, like in an artist’s home. TRIP flips that expectation on its head and yet Lambchop only hurts themselves in the process.