||15 October 2010
||Chris Zane, John Congelton
||Indie, surf rock
Throughout their career The Walkmen have penned bittersweet and vicious songs of regret, self pity and resentment. In a singular act of art reflecting life the trajectory of a band is one of great power and ability but never quite living up to their massive potential. The sixth studio album Lisbon harps on the same themes, but is this another self fulfilling prophecy of missed opportunities or have they finally produced the great album they have always promised?
With half of the band in another city and the production of the album split over two places and time periods a difficult and disjointed piece of work could have been expected. Nothing is further from the truth. This is the sound of men who are world weary and browbeaten but resolute in the face of oncoming obstacles.
'Juveniles', the opening track, glides along with a lazy jangly guitar never sure whether to cry or fight. It’s a fragile song full of nostalgia and quivering teenage angst although it still remains sweet and almost heroic in its euphoric refrain "you’re one of us or you’re one of them". This is ‘Big star on the radio, drowning your sorrows with a bottle of JD’ material.
More languid surfer reefs serve the backbone of 'Angela Surf City', another reflective and heartbreaking number. As the chorus kicks in and drums pound relentlessly echoes of their most famous song 'The Rat' resonate. The momentum and sheer drive establishes what made The Walkman the next big thing on Bows + Arrows. Also the husky cigarette ridden vocals are a major highpoint. The rasp of Hamilton Leithauser’s voice reminds one of a more passionate Julian Casablancas. Indeed this is a track The Strokes would kill to write recently.
'Follow the Leader' diverts from the bittersweet and melodious to a slightly tuneless cacophony. The trebly guitars are so high in the mix that they vie for control with the cavernous vocals but not in The Fall way. The harsh guitars are more reactionary and pained than they were in earlier triumphant mode.
The album launches into mariachi style with Morricone rhythms suiting the camaraderie that the band has engineered. 'Blue As Your Blood' doesn’t quite live up to its sweeping atmosphere and crashing chorus. It’s just not of the dramatic calibre of say Scott Walker, not even of the retro chic of the Last Shadow Puppets; it’s just solid in its execution. 'Stranded' is more successful. This actually sounds like a last stand. It has a quiet power opposing the funeral overtones of lost love and rejection. Leithauser sings "I’m stranded and I’m starry eyed" in insolence like some fifties heartthrob steadying himself at the stinging punches of failed romance before him.
In the middle of the album lays a trio of tracks that bubble over with forced conviction. 'Victory', although it fizzles, is ultimately not as good as it should have been. Again these songs are about ungrasped at chances with 'All My Great Designs' wallowing in its unremarkable structure. 'Woe Is Me' is played without irony and is commendable in its rawness however it never really hits the heights intended.
'Torch song' is an attempt at the fifties lovelorn balladeer. He ain’t Buddy Holly, Hamilton may say but you’ve got to take his way or else. The number is at once wistful, full of angry self pity yet manages to capture the sad eyed mood searched for throughout the album.
The torch song has obviously become a penchant to the New Yorkers as they try it once more with the penultimate number 'While I Shovel The Snow'. The introspection and self loathing is now at its most stripped as the singer croons the sort of ark light sadness that Richard Hawley churns out by the dozen. The Americana romanticism is not quite pulled off but there are sedate moments that are encapsulated in subtle pondering vocal.
"Half of my life I’ve been waiting, half of my life I’ve been watching".
The spiky opposition of the guitars are finally laid to rest on the closer 'Lisbon', an evocative slow acoustic/electric showstopper that feels like the dawning of the day after the campfire merriment of the night before.
"At this early hour, tell your wife a story".
A time remembered and can’t be got back; the vocalist sets forth this in the mist of sliding Tex-Mex guitars. They swoon with dreamy nostalgia and the bittersweet romanticism that sums up the general feeling of the album.
The Walkmen have their hearts in the right place. The album is nearly a beautiful and bitter letter to melancholy and lost love but all too often the band strife to evoke too much and end up within the solid and ordinary. In saying this some of the mid tracks may be transposed over time and this may become a slow burning defining album of their career.
- Tim Gannon