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The Walkmen - The poets of dejection
on 11 October 2010
The Walkmen have had more false starts than 100m heats at the Olympic Games so it a happy event to report that Hamilton Leithauser and his band of troubadours from New York have finally nailed the damn thing to the post and decided to move out of the garage. In their ten years of making music we have had massive highlights like "The Rat" one of the greatest rock songs to be pressed to vinyl, the roaring post punk hand grenade of an album that is "Bows + Arrows" and the moody incendiary magnificence of their return to form album 2008's "You and Me". We have also had some pretty poor fare to deal with not least their third album "A Hundred Miles Off" and sense that the Walkmen might have missed their big chance. So it's wonderful that "Lisbon" proclaims a very loud "au contraire" to the doubters and presents a band at the top of their game.
Not that this album has the raw power of some of their earlier work or their trademark full frontal attack, but that can be deceptive on deeper listens. Indeed "Lisbon" like the Portuguese Capital is in many respects superficially a bright affair on which we have glorious surf punk anthems ("Angela Surf City" which is possibly their best song since "The rat"), surreal Johnny Cash like alt country rockers (the brilliant "Blue as your blood") and epic spiky slow burn rock ballads ("Torch song" and "All my great designs"). Equally this is more than ever an album where Leithauser's vocals dominate and the singing style is now very much his own property forever laying to rest the former accusations of a Dylan copyist.
It would not be The Walkmen however if some dark undercurrents didn't come to the forefront and on the lovely and wry lament "While I shovel snow" which Leithauser sings beautifully he regrets that "half of my life I've been watching, half of my life I've been waking up". Dejection has always been a Walkmen specially and "Woe is me" tips a nod to fellow New Yorkers the Strokes but also proves that Leithauser recent crash course in Sun Records rockabilly has paid off. "Stranded" alternatively starts off with slow horns and actually sounds like a traditionally based almost Felice Brothers style song, it is very big highlight on an album packed with them.
"Lisbon" is the Walkmen's sixth album and during the past ten years there have been times when "travelling the journey" with this band has been a difficult and questionable affair. It is because of this that "Lisbon" taken together with "You and Me" is such a triumph, indeed it worth echoing the words of the wonderful American music blog Stereogum which rightly states that "The Walkmen have gotten so good at what they do, it's easy enough to overlook the complexity of what it is they're creating." Thus in "Victory" which is a song with distant echoes of the Clash during their Sandinista era the Walkmen announce that "Victory should be mine" to which this reviewers response is "well done you've achieved it".