It’s taken a while but The Walkmen are now quietly earning the kind of reputation which seemed destined to elude them. These New Yorkers look for a more mature audience than slick doom mongers like Interpol. Instead, they identify with life’s losers and drinkers so, the question is, do they tone down their style to take advantage of their new found exposure or stick to what they do best? The Walkmen choose to take the latter option and it turns out to be the right move.
‘Juveniles’ opens in familiar fashion with wonky but controlled instruments accompanying the permanently bruised vocal of Hamilton Leithauser. Albums by The Walkmen usually contain at least one track which could be termed as “anthemic” and ‘Angela Surf City’ is certainly a contender; largely due to its brutal percussion and thrilling chorus. So too does ‘Victory’; a song as defiant and proud as the title indicates.
Yet The Walkmen are far more comfortable with material of a brooding and downtempo nature. For this reason, ‘Blue Is Your Blood’ fits them perfectly. It’s a testament to their class that the introduction of a string section to an already stunning song, serves to induce even more goose bumps . Similarly, ‘Torch Song’ may employ backing harmonies and have an obvious title but the way in which Leithauser howls to the moon with his bandmates seemingly on the brink of exhaustion preserves their status of outsiders. Then there’s ‘While I Shovel The Snow’ (with quietly disaffected lyrics like “so for now I’ll take my time for now I can’t be bothered”), which is the exemplar of how they can connect with everyman concerns.
Whereas my feeling with current media favourites The National is that their best work is in the past and they’re too comfortable playing to the middle-aged male demographic, The Walkmen show no sign of compromising and retain a scruffy, unique charm. ‘Lisbon’ may not quite be their best record but they still sound like the cool underdogs of the pack.
The National, Unknown Component