The Walkmen – Heaven
The Walkmen are an interesting band. Seemingly rarely out of the public frame since exploding in 2004 with a solid post punk album in Bows and Arrows, and a damn near perfect effort at a pop-rock song in The Rat, it is deprecating to say they have limped yet fallacious to say they have strode towards their workmanlike 7th album in 10 years.
Usually I greet the impending release of an album with fanfare, or even fevered anticipation. Yet their last release, Lisbon, was released such a relatively short time ago that I was not even expecting it. The album came like an old friend dropping over for dinner. I wasn’t really expecting it, I wasn’t ready for it…hell I was even a little annoyed by it. But after the initial shock wore off I sat down happily to greet the stories my old friend would tell, as by now I have a deep sense of familiarity and understanding with him, and I am sure I would enjoy what he he had to say.
The Walkmen themselves have matured like a bottle of wine. The band early were all full of pop and flavour, yet they have been around long enough now and have matured to be smoother, lighter and, whilst not as immediately exiting, are much more palatable.
Because I am sure that you can’t handle another analogy, brilliant as they have been, I am just going to start talking about the album. It was absolutely unsurprising, but still The Walkmen’s best effort in years. The band has never showed as much maturity, and the emotional payoff in many off the songs is comprehensive.
The closest modern day band I could compare The Walkmen to is Spoon. While incredibly talented and fronted by a super songwriter in Britt Daniel, I don’t love Spoon because they make great albums. I love them because they consistently make good albums. Spoon are the band equivalent of a Rolex watch, incredibly reliable, and as hard as they tried to break that trend with the almost great Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, there is a certain comfort in knowing that with every knew Spoon release you will find at least six or seven songs from ten, and 45 minutes of solid entertainment. Over the last few years The Walkmen have matured greatly and they have morphed into a more ‘mod’ version of Spoon.
This album however, shows the band exploring some interesting territory. Previously unexplored lyrical depth, genre hopping and cameo’s from some big name friends (including Fleet Foxes Robin Pecknold) all combine to give this album a more mature, complete feel than the bands previous efforts. Sure, there is still a few tracks that are not great, but the risks the band took were larger, and the successes are somehow more numbered, so the album on the whole feels like a bigger triumph.
There are still the songs that have the ‘Walkmen’ flavour to them, and they are reliably good as usual. Songs such as Heartbreaker, Nightingales and The Witch, all of which may not be completely found out of place on Lisbon or Bows and Arrows on first listen, possess enough lyrical and musical intricacies to further represent the groups growth on this solid album.
There is also the literal musical growth that is exhibited on songs like Southern Heart, a beautiful country ballad, whereby lead singer Hamilton Leithauser hangs his arguably susceptible voice completely out to dry. It is completely affecting as it shows his vulnerability and it is very evocative. Another strong track, Line by Line, is utterly brilliant in its simplicity. A theme of many tracks on Heaven, is the less is more approach, which has not been a hallmark of the youthful Walkmen, and shines a spotlight on the groups adult lyrical content. It is a smart move.
(Side note: it also just occurred to me how much I love their band name)
They have also truly found a song in We Can’t Be Beat. Tapping into the Indie Folk movement that is seemingly more popular than One Direction at the moment, they enlist the help of double tracked harmonies by none other than Mr Fleet Foxes himself Robin Pecknold to give the first track a little bit more resonance. Those expecting the familiar Walkmen guitar jangle are no doubt pleasantly surprised by this wonderful alt-folk inspired ditty, and lets hope it there is much more from where it came from.
This album is a mature, inspired attempt at a great album from one of the most reliable artists of the 21st century. Save from a couple of missed attempts in the second half, this album could have been their Magnum Opus. No matter though…our old friend will be back in 12 months or so, older and wiser with a few more reliably good stories to tell, and to try again.