Coming to work this morning past the giant Budweiser posters of William Tyler, it occurred to me it was really high time I wrote about “OH (Ohio)”. I guess there may have been some reluctance on my part to commit to this one, possibly because I’ve found the last couple – maybe more – Lambchop albums so disappointing, and also because, clearly, none of their slowly insinuating records merit rushed judgments.

Coming to work this morning past the giant Budweiser posters of William Tyler, it occurred to me it was really high time I wrote about “OH (Ohio)”. I guess there may have been some reluctance on my part to commit to this one, possibly because I’ve found the last couple – maybe more – Lambchop albums so disappointing, and also because, clearly, none of their slowly insinuating records merit rushed judgments.



But anyway, “OH (Ohio)” seems to be a quietly re-energised – though I’m not sure that’s ever quite the right word for Lambchop – album. Of late, they’ve seemed weary; a tentative, beaten musical treatment might have fitted the tales of illness on “Damaged”, but the record still sounded exhausted beyond thematic usefulness. And while I became infatuated with “Is A Woman” (usefully, since I was writing an extensive piece on the band for Uncut at the time), I can’t pretend I’ve played it much in the intervening years.

It’s hard to identify exactly what makes “OH (Ohio)” such a (dread phrase) return to form – after all, Kurt Wagner and his bandmates deal in such microscopic nuances that I guess a lot of casual listeners would be struggling to spot the differences. Often, though, this one reminds me of that very first album, “Jack’s Tulips”, in that it rekindles the freshness, even the discreet playfulness, of Lambchop.

There’s a lightness of touch rediscovered here, from the opening supper-club shuffle of “Ohio” on. Perhaps one of the problems with recent records has been that the sheer strangeness of Lambchop’s original sound – the hazy, lightly-sketched, characterful synthesis of country, soul and so on – seemed to become over-familiar, even oppressive. This time, though, it works again, as Wagner navigates his rueful way through excellent songs like “Slipped Dissolved And Loosed”, “Popeye” (such a beautiful phased, dynamic coda to this one) and the gorgeously horn-flecked “Of Raymond” with, if not vigour, then a good deal more purpose.

Apparently, Wagner has finally come to terms with the fact that Lambchop is ostensibly a vehicle for his songs, which might explain the heightened focus. But it’s weird, because the remorseless spotlight on his disintegrating voice, as on “Damaged” and “Is A Woman” especially, doesn’t feel quite so discomforting on “OH (Ohio)”. The personnel around him have almost completely changed since Lambchop’s early days, but the way they track his ambulatory melodies has all the customary subtlety, but perhaps not the virtual invisibility of those problem records.

We can speculate about renewed vigour in the wake of life-threatening illness, of course, and the gentle humour that feeds through “National Talk Like A Pirate Day” may well be evidence of that. But maybe there is no great secret to why a band return to form sometimes, other than that the muse haphazardly drives them to create a batch of better songs. And while I went off on some mild anti-tune rant the other day (check the comments at the bottom), it’s nice to have a Lambchop album with some hooks again, perhaps most strikingly “A Hold Of You”.

There’s a palpable, albeit suitably mature, desire to flex muscle on parts of “OH (Ohio)”: along with “National Talk Like A Pirate Day”, “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr” is one of Lambchop’s rare – and more successful than most – attempts to pick up a bit of speed. It’s not “Up With People”, but it’s not bad, either.

A grower, then. It’ll be interesting to see how these songs turn out when Wagner plays them solo at his Club Uncut gig next Wednesday, on September 10. James Blackshaw and Cate Le Bon supporting, remember.