Even in the mid-'90s, when "alt-country" was a buzzword, Lambchop was never easy to categorize. While others looked to honky-tonk heroes for inspiration, Kurt Wagner's band drew from the heavily orchestrated countrypolitan sounds popularized by singers like Jim Reeves and producers like Billy Sherrill. It wasn't cool, but being cool wasn't the point; the point was more about creating a heartbreakingly lush sound to back up Wagner's alternately wry, funereal, and soaring voice.
The intensity of the lushness has waxed and waned over the years as the band has looked beyond country to '70s soul for inspiration. Like the 2002 album Is A Woman, Damaged scales back for an opaque set of heartbroken songs inspired by, in Wagner's words, "deeply personal experience." At least, that's eventually the case. The album-opening "Paperback Bible" begins with a lyric taken from exchanges on the NPR show Swap Shop ("Yeah, I'd like to find a 27-inch color TV"), but the band makes the exchange of goods sound poignant, setting the stage for portraits of faded lives, failed relationships, and free-floating discontent.
Wagner's lyrics blur the details but not the sentiment, and the careful, spare (by Lambchop standards) accompaniment sustains a mood of unease, indecision, and regret before exploding (again, by Lambchop standards) with the album-closing "The Decline Of Country And Western Civilization." Wagner targets everyone from KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest to "pitchfork I-rock saviors," repeating "damn, they're looking ugly to me" before settling on telling someone "you're good-looking," then drawing the album to a close with a minute of ambient clicks—and maybe a hint of hope.