Kurt Wagner describes Mark Nevers' initial idea for the sound of Lambchop's eleventh studio album as "psycho-Sinatra". While there are moments of anger to be found during Mr. M (Wagner's first line for example is: "Don't know what the f**k they talk about."), musically it's very laid back. The record is rooted in the 60's lounge acts that the two word concept evokes, owing a debt to not only the 'Rat Pack' but Burt Bacharach and Andy Williams along the way too.
While Wagner's sound has moved far beyond the initial country infused guitars of Lambchop's early output, he seems to have found a very comfortable niche for himself. His world-weary vocal brings a strangely comforting sense of melancholy to proceedings. One such example is closing track 'Never My Love' where he states; "I've never been in love before, and I needed nothing, nothing more, than to be with you."
Part of the context for the material here, is the death of long time friend and collaborator Vic Chesnutt. There is certainly a reflection on life and loss throughout, but Mr. M feels in many ways nostalgic for an era rather than just a person. From the top hat and the handwritten typeface on the front cover to Peter Stopschinski and Mason Neely's string arrangements, it's like a lovingly crafted time capsule of days gone by. The intimate recordings also bring a warmth to the songs, probably best summed up when Wagner declares on 'Gone Tomorrow' that "the wine tasted like sunshine in the basement."
There's also quirkiness here as demonstrated during '2B2' when one of Wagner's narrators says, "Took the Christmas lights off the front porch, February 31st." It's these kind of little details that make Mr. M a rewarding experience, with complicated and well drawn characters inhabiting the songs.
Musically although the guitars of old are still central to Wagner's songwriting, it's the strings, pianos and other flourishes that elevate the material to something haunting and memorable. The gap between Lambchop albums has been considerably longer this time round, perhaps because Wagner has publicly stated that he felt the band had only one good record left in them. Although Mr. M sounds like an appropriate way to bookend the Lambchop catalogue, you suspect that it's actually just the start of a new chapter in the bands career of intelligent and thoughtful music.