Having meandered via the Bristol trip-hop scene of the early 90’s – Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack et al – I took to the sound of Lamb with alacrity the first time I heard them*. They played third in the bill at Jamiroquai’s Jam In The Park gig, at Finsbury Park, London in the summer of 1997, when ‘better’ was the sort of ‘things’ still on offer.
Except that, unlike the lightweight efforts from barely-there plinky-plonk-hop groups such as the Sneaker Pimps, Lamb genuinely brought something new into play. The same components seemed to be there as in Portishead – jazz influenced electronica, syncopated beats and a compelling female vocal – but the resulting sounds were quite different – certainly more varied in style, pace and arrangement.
That Lamb’s Andy Barlow and Louise Rhodes hail from my native Manchester could account for the rather more attitudinal and hard-edged approach they have compared to Bristol loafers Barrow, Gibbons and Utley.
It’s safe to say that not only do Lamb cover a wider variety of reportorial bases than Portishead, they had a more human and optimistic sound too.
I use the past tense because Lamb called it a day, to all intents and purposes, in 2004, after 4 albums and 10 singles. A remixes CD appeared in 2005, but the fact that it doesn’t make it my iPod says what needs to be said.
In ‘97, they only had one album to their names and this eponymous offering made a profound impression on me and my compadres.
It’s one of those albums that has a flow to it, and that makes picking out any particular track difficult, though there are lots to choose from on YouTube.
The opener, Lusty, is as good an entry point as any.
… and the whole album is without duffers, but Gorecki is a stand out track.
By the standards of their second album, Fear of Fours, the first seemed altogether conventional.
A much more free-form, chaotic and atonal sound emerged. This album became, and remains, one of my favourite of all time. While it doesn’t knock the first or third albums out of the park, it stands apart from them.
Again, a coherence emerges to the whole, and picking out individual tracks is difficult.
This one, B-Line, is special to me, though.
For the full measure of crazy, though, you need to turn to the instrumental track (each album has at least one). In this case, Ear Parcel.
… which segues nicely into this – Softy.
If nothing else, Fear of Fours proved that some albums just cannot be played to death.
Come the third album – What Sound? – there was evidence that the duo were starting to run out of steam.
Lou having a baby probably contributed to that, but the lard giveth and he taketh away. The glorious result was Gabriel.
The instrumental track on this album, Scratch Bass perhaps reminds as much of Manchester legends 808 State as Aphex Twin.
You may have detected earlier, when I wrote “While it doesn’t knock the first or third albums out of the park, it stands apart from them” that I passed no comment on the fourth album. Between Darkness and Wonder was the album that finished them off – between artistic differences, diverging priorities and recriminations, the outcome was mostly worth little comment.
The first track imbued me the same sense of grievous loss I first felt when Prince stopped singing about boning bitches with his microphone stand and started bothering God – a line that was flirted with on several earlier albums but was crossed forever with Lovesexy. Indeed – the Lovesexy tour was built around the good and evil sides of man.
Happily, one track was hanging around that had never been committed to CD – Sun. As Lou admitted at the time, it bears no relevance to the rest of the album, but they had to put it out as it had been a live favourite for years.
Speaking of live, after seeing Lamb in ‘97, I went on to see them roughly 15 times over the following 7 years – V festival, Bracknell music festival (the intimate gigs were always best), Leeds, London, Manchester and 4 times in Brighton culminating in that final gig down at Concorde 2. Each one was superb in its own way, even when they weren’t entirely in control of their instruments.
Apparently, they’re back together at the moment, but I fear seeing them again would bring about the same sadness that seeing Madness or The Sex Pistols brings me now.
* I might also have been dancing in my pants because it was pissing down and I’d stashed my clothes in a back-pack. Drugs are bad, mkay kids?