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Lamb to the slaughter?
on 15 October 2001
There's been a lot of talk in the Lamb camp over the years of creative fiction and its' part in the genesis of the Lamb sound. That sound, Lou's teasing vocal stream, both moving and petulant was clearly antagonised (both on and off record) by the marauding industrial vigour of Andy's accompanying sound. Her defence at first rasped, then trilled and whined delightfully in response to the brutality that threatened to engulf it. The resulting merchandise, glittering and exotic set them apart from the wares being peddled at the time by other trip-hop merchants. Indeed without the sound scaffolding of uneasy time signatures and dogged irreverance to all thing harmonious, the vocal thread may simply have withered through lack of opposition. "Cotton Wool" was irksome and jumpy, uncertain of its' direction but all the more enthralling because of it. The sublime "Gorecki", demonstrated a different dynamic at work, that of one-upmanship. Could the music equal in terms of mood, depth and sheer grandeur that suggested by the words and they way they were sung? We found out that it could. "Fear of Fours", the follow up to their eponymous debut, avowed in its' title, a rejection of all things pedestrian and came at a time when the clash of personalities threatened Lamb with extinction. Yet on tracks like "Bonfire", anchored resolutely by a double bass lumbering apace with a gravelly vocal seething with conviction, the Lamb partnership showed signs of a coalescence of vision. Each member supporting and releasing the other. "Softly", was a beautifully vital evocation of love: Lou soared, Andy grounded, then Andy soared and Lou grounded-the musical equivalent of watching children play ring-a-ring-o-roses: movement, tension, collapse and arise.
In the context of this "What Sound", hits you like a loss of faith. Granted, "I Cry", "Heaven" and "What Sound" all hint at former glories, drenched with feeling and gathered up in orchestral gravitas, yet the plunge isn't taken. There's a sense of retreat, of pulling back as soon as the mood swells. Maybe Lamb have grown too comfortable in one anothers'company. "Sweet" sounds like an Andy Weatherall reworking of a Level 42 standard and their interest in reconfiguring the landscape of the late eighties, 808 State style is much in evidence on "Scratch Bass", a particularly aimless vehicle of scratches, squelches and crescendoes that do little to uplift. Lou's voice lacks the taught and wiry quality of old and shorn of this uneasy tension, the lyrics are thrown into quite cheesy relief-"this could be heaven, right here on earth", a sentiment more befitting of Belinda Carlisle, you could say. In the absence of provocation, the electronica takes on an especially ordinary aspect. The single "Gabriel",though, inspired by the love poetry of Persian mystic, Rumi is quite, quite lovely, reinvigorating simplicity with depth. Yet its' late appearance on the album is powerless to salvage the foregoing flotsam.
Still, if their album launch at London's Cargo a few weeks ago is anything to go by, they're stll a very vital proposition live. On record, however, the ceasing of hostilities augers a drift into peace time mediocrity for Lamb.