Let's face it; 'The Rat' was an undeniably astounding track. The sheer vigour was unrelenting from start to finish and it still gets mentioned today as one of last decade's musical highlights. It wasn't so much a 'My Sharona' for the band, obviously not as they are still revered and their albums are still looked forward to, but it was a song that cast a shadow over the band that has since made things very dark in the world of The Walkmen. Fortunately though, they are a band that strive in darkness and have yet to release a dud album; if anything, they have continually improved album after album (we're still waiting for a song that's better than 'The Rat', however).
On 2010's Lisbon, it was as if the band had finally found the sound that would clearly define them post-angry young man Bow and Arrows (and thus 'The Rat') era. They are now sardonic older gentlemen, sipping glasses of red wine with the likes of The National and a less irritating David Cross and making music that they wouldn't have dreamt of ten years ago.
A ripening has unfolded on the band, what is the most refreshing thing a band who have survived as long as the Walkmen can do is adjust themselves so they will continually be relevant to listen to. 'We Can't Be Beat' opens the album with an exemplary display of how to successfully pull off the newly fashionable art of harmonising. The timid guitar picks usher in the album with an eerie quiet, Hamilton Leithause's vocals and the lulling harmonies that creep up behind it draw you even further in and, whilst you may think you've accidentally picked up a barbershop album by a shanty troupe, you don't stop to think about it once.
The whole experience is a somewhat down beaten affair but the people who would complain about that would be the same people who don't eat ice cream because it's too cold. You don't buy a Walkmen album to make yourself the happiest guy on earth, that's what Katrina and the Waves are for. That said, they do like to flirt with antitheses between gloomy lyrics and somewhat upbeat backing. The titular 'Heaven' is a great example of this, with its summery bops up and down the frets; if you blink you might miss what it is that Leithause is yearning for. 'Don't leave me/ you're my best friend/ All of my life, you've always been', he cries, longing for love if not maybe something more. His anguish is much easier to pick up on say, 'No One Ever Sleeps' or 'Love Is Luck,' but I guess that's what makes 'Heaven' more of a standout track.
Individually, the band are not old at all. They may have been around for some time but there is much more to come from the group, both individually and collectively (I'd hope). What Heaven, and I'm sure many other albums to come from them, is a sign of a group growing old gracefully. They're not looking to capture that sense of youthful aggression they have already captured expertly, as they move further into middle age they are now looking for something more. Leithause may still sing of loves lost, but he sings about them with much more dignity and maturity than he has ever done before. The band have matured beyond recognition too, all for the better, as the band have done their part to make an album that jumps from genre to genre and never once gets lost on the way.
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