11 September 2012
Ten years on and indie-alternative band The Walkmen are still going strong. Andrew Reinholds reviews their latest album, Heaven.
‘Heaven’, the seventh album by New York natives The Walkmen finds the once moody outsiders, darlings to very few but the most pretentious critics, in the rudest of health. Indeed, it completes a remarkable trilogy, that began with ‘You & Me’ and continued with the kaleidoscopic jazz-tinged colour of ‘Lisbon’ to deliver a record that is perhaps the final piece of evidence proving that they have now reached a new maturity, confidence and contentment very few would have thought possible when ten long years ago they unleashed the vitriolic hate and anger of what has for too long remained their most well-known song, ‘The Rat’.
Not that ‘Heaven’ is a happy album in the purest sense of the word – I doubt The Walkmen will ever be capable of such a thing. But it’s a record that finds the group in reflective mood, looking back on ten long years slugging their guys out to get any sort of mainstream recognition for their craft.
It all begins with the sombre slowness of “We can’t be Beat” which builds progressively with new layers of percussion and backing vocals to climax with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser defiantly proclaiming “we can’t be beat, we can’t be beat, we’ll never leave, the world is ours”. It really could have been the albums closing track, but it perfectly sets the tone for the quiet defiance and strength
that surges through the album.
Thanks to new producer Phil Ek (who most recently worked with Fleet Foxes and Modest Mouse) there is a real warmth and lushness to the sound that if anything gives Leithauser’s remarkable voice even more space within which to weave its spell. Yes, he does still sound remarkably like the second coming of Rod Stewart after a heavy night drinking but his writing has come on leaps and bounds. Now what he is singing has even more poignancy and understanding than ever before.
Whether it be confessing that he desires “a life that needs correction” because “nobody loves perfection”; to understanding that “it’s the love you love – not me” on the spine tingling ‘Love you Love’; or dryly asking “tell me again how you loved all the men you were after” on the sparse ‘Southern Heart’ you get the feeling that he’s seen it all before. And more.
Elsewhere there is the simply divine sweetness of ‘Song to Leigh’ which is an ode to his daughter, and the tightness of the album’s sprightly title track with the memorable line “remember, remember what we fight for, don’t leave me now you’re my best friend, all my life you’ve always been”. It’s powerful, stirring stuff.
Their newfound maturity lies in understanding that life is all about making mistakes – as Leithauser so eloquently asks for in the album’s opening track “a life that needs correction” because “nobody loves perfection”. And perhaps ultimately this is the real beauty that lies at the heart of ‘Heaven’. That is a group of men who have battled long and hard for everything they have. Along the way they’ve made mistakes, but those mistakes have helped to make them better people. As a result, they fully appreciate what is really important in life – friends and family.
The Walkmen are building a compelling body of work that should sooner rather than later have them sitting at the same table as other great American “indie-alternative” luminaries such as The National and Wilco.
No-one could say they haven’t earned it. Long may they shine.