In any relationship, difference is the dynamic that makes magic happen. In musical partnerships, it’s often the crucial friction that makes creative sparks fly but, a fraction too much friction, and everything’s likely to go up in smoke.
Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow understand difference more than most. They’re the first to admit that when they got together their diametrically opposing aesthetics – Lou’s devotion to The Song, Andy’s obsession with all things beats-driven and electronic and his complete disinterest in vocals – created problems. Often, the very glue that bound them together nearly saw them come unstuck. But those differences also bred a mutual respect and resulted in one of the most genuinely genre-bending dance albums of the mid-90s. In 1996, when drum’n’bass ruled, Lamb’s eponymous debut LP up-ended the rigid idea of that form by warming its distinctively chilly, tacheometric chatter with injections of jazz, classical, blues, techno and hip hop and giving it an intensely personal, highly emotional charge. The sweetly stuttering ‘Cottonwool’ and divine ‘Gorecki’ singles showed that drum’n’bass could do much more than just make feet move quicker – it could make hearts beat faster, too.
The album ‘Fear Of Fours‘ followed in 1999, the title a sly reference to its avoidance of pedestrian beats and conventional time signatures. It was a texturally dense and often darkly intense record, a complex layering of massive, baffled breakbeats, juddering, technoid pulses, sweeping strings and disturbing electronic ambience, offset by Lou’s haunting vocals. Its striking sense of otherness peaked in ‘Alien’, for which Andy sampled the foetal heartbeat of Lou’s son Reuben, who she carried throughout the writing and recording of the album.
In 2001 ‘What Sound‘ was released. It’s Andy and Lou at their most relaxed yet vitally re-energised, an open, easeful and self-contained, freshly charged expression of all that is characteristically Lamb, but with some surprising new voices. For the first time ever, the pair decided against doing everything themselves in the studio and employed not only a co-producer (Guy Sigsworth on 2 songs), but also invited in a host of guests for various sessions, including guitarist Jimi Goodwin of Doves, Michael Franti, Me’ Shell NdegéOcello, Scratch Perverts, Will Malone and Arto Lindsay. Letting go of the reins a little wasn’t planned, but it turned out to be a stroke of accidental genius.
‘With “What Sound”, we noticed the simplicity and the less-is-more aesthetic that seemed to be coming out as we went along,’ Lou explains. ‘It was obviously happening naturally, but we decided we wanted to make that a central thing with the record. It was about us as individuals and egos getting out of the way, letting the music do its thing and not trying too hard.’