From the outset, The Walkmen’s seventh album Heaven (‘seventh heaven’ geddit?) does much to reignite interest in a band, who to be completely honest, have regularly under-performed on record (critically, backslaps all round, but commercially, nada) to the point where wives/girlfriends, etc, are sure to have said “when are you going to give up this young man’s game?”. Something I’m sure The Walkmen have considered while watching peers and friends pass them by.
So, it’s reassuring for a track called “We Can’t Be Beat” to be led out first to bat on Heaven. It has a conciliatory “here we are again, and we’ll be back, again” feel, guided by vocalist Hamilton Leithauser’s humble, softly-sung recitation which builds into a Fleet Foxes-tinged celebration, one that swells in harmony as the rest of the band, the line-up unchanged since formation, rise to strengthen his words. It’s a confirmation of The Walkmen’s determination after more than a decade together to remain a constant presence. They can’t be stopped. They can’t be beat.
With this the follow-up to 2010’s not-quite-as-satisfying Lisbon, The Walkmen appear to have shaken that quasi-hungover/hangdog woe-is-me, 60’s-bar-band slouch they’ve been hauling around the last few records. If they were ever to find a second wind, Heaven is it — confident, sassy, straight up. This is witnessed on “Heartbreaker”, a track that posits The Walkmen at the summit of their talents — a driving beat and bassline, Leithauser shaking accusation — “I’m not your heartbreaker/some tender ballad player”, which is apt ‘cos The Walkmen always felt like they were the ones getting their asses handed to them.
The funny thing is you always got the feeling that The Walkmen could write themselves any number of hits if the screws were tightened enough. The potential has always been there, and you could hear it album to album, the songs sold short and left to hang. So what’s changed? What is Heaven about? Well, for one thing, a band who’ve stridently avoided writing songs with “love” in the title for six albums straight seem overly confident in making up for lost time. And how. “Love Is Luck” and “The Love You Love” both benefit from song-title-in-chorus and shaking rhythms, tunes worthy of letting loose on.
Despite a couple of meandering moments Heaven is still The Walkmen’s strongest and most commercial sounding album to date, as peculiar as that sounds for a band on the seventh go round. There was once a time when receiving word of a new Walkmen was met with tired resignation, a feeling of ‘another one?’, but they’ve passed through that inconsequential mid/late-career limbo that most bands never exit and have arrived in Heaven all the better for it.