Release Date: 29/5/2012
The Walkmen marry their genuine emotion with some of the most beautiful soundscapes they've ever produced
In music, it can sometimes be hard to interpret whether those artists writing about "real loss and pain" are being absolutely genuine. That may seem like a cyncial and unfair assertion to some, but there's always been a subtley obvious dividing line between the genuine and painfully modest and authentic (Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen) and the scene- endorsing posturing (My Chemical Romance). Thankfully since their emergence in 2000, amongst the dry and plastic hipster appeal of the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Walkmen have always been the latter. Their disregard for any particular image or rock music's marketing trap- holes presents them as probably the most authentic rock group America has roduced in recent years. It has always been a case of knowing that they mean what they say rather than hoping they do.
"Heaven", their 6th full- length, is not vastly different. There was a slight hint before its release that The Walkmen were minutely inspired by the goading history of American rock arrogance, assuming a sort of stately gentlemen position with pictures of them all in suits and frontman Hamilton Leithauser saying things like it is a "collection of classic American rock songs." But there's little pretension to be wary of here. The subject matter veers towards talking about collective unity occasionally, which means "Heaven" is sometimes devoid of the very human characteristic that, whether they wanted it to or not, has often defined them. But hey, change isn't always a bad thing, is it?
"Love Is Luck" is instantly cynical, swept with the heartbreak of 2010's "Lisbon", but it manages to be consistently upbeat with its persistent, driving drums and afro- beaty lead guitar line, suggesting a certain amount of rejuvination, although it's not lacking in experience. Importantly, like many of the songs here, it carries a great sense of purpose. "Heartbreaker" follows and plunges into a beautifully simple ramble with a chiming and instantly memorable lead guitar part. The human realism is brought to play here as Leithauser sings "I'm not your heartbreaker... These are the good years" with that distinctive conviction.
"Southern Heart" is a mellow acoustic ode to national unity somewhat, but is more inspired by a loss of sense of self than any rigid conservatism. It undergoes a White Stripes- esque shift in its continously calm trajectory towards the end and turns sinisterly personal, as Leihauser sings "Tell me again how you love all the men you were after."
Some of the most affecting moments here are when the instrumentation is pushed to the fore, as on "Line By Line." A resounding, expansive lone electric guitar runs a gorgeous melody (even if it is rather similar to R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts"), whilst "Nightingales" is a starkly beautiful exercise in euphoric tremolo picking and a majestic melody that nearly reaches post- rocky heights.
The title "Heaven" then, on the surface, is not a bang on representation. It's certainly more grandiose than much of the band's work in recent years, and it certainly endorses the idea of the great, rousing American rock album at many a moment. Despite having an aesthetic tied to it however, it doesn't see a loss of any of the realism or humanism, nor does it see them making any grand gestures or presumptions. It's The Walkmen doing what they want to do, as always. And here, the results are, on a musical level at least, heavenly.
Download: 1) Line By Line, 2) Nightingales, 3) Southern Heart
For Fans Of: The War On Drugs, Spoon, Bruce Springsteen