After a 5 year hiatus, LAMB, the duo Andy Barlow and Lou Rhodes, reformed in 2009. To say this reunion was a success would be a gross understatement. By January of 2010, Lamb had played 33 shows to hundreds of thousands of fans in 29 different countries. Lou vividly recalls a particularly reflective conversation with Andy at the end of this tour. “He simply said, ‘the time feels right – give me one reason why we shouldn’t do another album,’ and I just couldn’t come up with one. I was thinking exactly the same thing. After such a big break and the fact that we’d both gone off and done solo records, he was right – it was the right time.”
Over the course of their four critically acclaimed studio albums, Lamb had grown from a modest duo from Manchester to a formidable touring force, with each subsequent album building on the sonic palette of the one that came before. By the time they’d released 2003’s ‘Between Darkness And Wonder’, Lou and Andy were supervising complex orchestral arrangements and multiple cowrites with bassist Jon Thorne and guitarist Oddur Mar Runnarson. If they were going to return to the studio, they’d have to return to the essence of what Lamb was: two creative spirits, hungry, unfettered by commercial pressure and desperate to make new music.
“It seemed like the magic was just the two of us in a room, pulling each other out of our comfort zones,” says Andy. “We didn’t want to dilute that in any way.”
“There was a purity to the first album,” Lou continues. “The technology we had was laughable, but in a sense that’s what gave it its rawness and strength.”
Lou and Andy have always had a spirited working relationship—often playing the yin to the other’s yang, especially early on in their careers—but it’s that juxtaposition of kinetic, beat-driven programming and transcendental melody that’s provided the crux of their inimitable sound. These days, with families of their own and a bit more shared life experiences between them, their visions have coalesced. Time has stripped away pretense and preciousness. Not only has the path ahead been more clearly illuminated, but the gift of hindsight has proven invaluable.
“’Fear Of Fours’ was a reaction against a lot of the response to the first album, rather than being a pure form of the art that we wanted to make.” Lou explains. “I think that’s the way the journey went. It’s only in retrospect that you can see that. It doesn’t mean we didn’t make some fantastic music along the way, but I think we did tend to find ourselves getting a little bit railroaded and I think that was a big part of us coming to the point of splitting up.”
The recording of Lamb’s final album became so frustrating and cumbersome that Andy admits to times where he dreaded returning to the studio. The divide between the larger, band-driven sound and a more intimate and acoustic feel had become nearly impassable. Lou had come to a point where she needed to articulate the more folk-oriented elements of her character; a journey that Andy feels wasn’t as much Lamb’s as it was Lou’s own.
Lou has since released three solo albums, including the Mercury Music Prize shortlisted ‘Beloved One’. All three albums ‘Beloved One’, ‘Bloom’ and ‘One Good Thing’ showed a stripped-down, uncomplicated, emotive & acoustic side of Lou. She has toured the world solo (and sometimes with a band) in support of all the albums.
Andy has worked hard as well. After a fair bit of globetrotting — “regaining a few lost years” after the nonstop commitments stemming from Lamb’s major label tenure — he spent time remixing and collaborating with other artists, honing his skills as a producer. He also completed his first full-length solo project under the name LOWB, released the album ‘Leap and the Net will Appear’ in 2011.
Says Andy, “The day I finished my solo album, which took five years, is the day we started Lamb’s album, which I think is going to take us five months!”
“I keep him in order. That’s what it is,” Lou smiles.
What used to be a process of building up and peeling off layers of sound and texture has become a focused, less is more approach. Andy is no longer, as Lou puts it, “a kid in a sweet shop”, but a veteran producer and engineer. Furthermore, most of the studio’s digital gear has been replaced with a host of warm, tube-driven analog hardware, with each signal hitting three or four valves before it goes anywhere near a computer.
“Lamb has always been about the interplay between the rugged ‘real’ thing and the technology around it” says Andy.
Jon Thorne again lends his potent double bass to the mix, and Damien Rice turns in a stunning duet on Back To Beginning, but the nucleus of 5 is stringently and unmistakably Lou and Andy. Another Language begins with a chorus of sampled wine glasses, swelling gently with ethereal strings and staccato bass notes before Lou drops her poetry over skittering, shifty rhythms.
Inspired by a character in Colum McCann’s novel Let The Great World Spin, She Walks is a haunting narrative that throbs with intrigue, while Strong The Root pops and bubbles with a mix of organic beats and slaps of doumbek. “Takes a tree to make a leaf. Strong the root underneath …” she coos. The lyric could easily stand as a commentary on Lou and Andy’s creative reawakening.
It was also the first track completed for the album. Build A Fire, on the other hand, is the track that first tested their resolve. Lou began the sessions for 5 with a severe bout of writer’s block, but Andy, undeterred if not mildly unsympathetic, pushed them both through. Inspired by his trip to Burning Man, it’s possibly the most raucous and indelible song Lamb has ever recorded.
On Existential Itch Lou exposes a coquettish, playful tone that recalls shades of Fear Of Fours’ B Line but behind the sharp rimshots, hi-hats and funk synth lies a deeper theme that Lou revisits throughout the album: a restless hunger for something that feels slightly out of reach.
“Perhaps the dreamer has been hitting against the hard knocks of life and come to a place of wondering if she dare dream anymore” says Lou. “It all sounds a little dramatic I guess, but it’s definitely there and very much a fuel for the writing process on this album.”
The sentiment returns on Rounds, as Lou’s vocals fall like layers of gold dust over a hypnotic, finger-plucked guitar melody. The story comes full circle on 5’s closing song, The Spectacle. Supported only by subtle atmospherics and a series of patient piano chords, Lou delivers a parable of self-discovery that speaks volumes about her own journey and the journey she and Andy have embarked upon.
“There’s something about the message of that song that resolves the whole album” Lou explains. “The idea of struggling to find something that was already ours. Despite the existential grappling that was so much a part of the process for me, and which formed much of the lyrical content, this album was definitely waiting to happen. I truly felt Lamb would come together again when there was something new to say.”
Thankfully, that time has come.
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