Fierce Panda, 2008
The Walkmen have always sounded like a band out of time. From the ashes of once great Jonathan Fire-eater, they arrived on the New York scene shortly before the great Strokes explosion of 2000. Appearing as the infinitely more inviting alternative they lost out in the pin-up stakes but proved their worth with the release of their 2002 debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone.
“It’s back to the battle today/I wouldn’t have it any other way” vocalist Hamilton Leithauser wearily offers on the underwater waltz of “Donde est La Playa”, and it must be a recurring feeling, having garnered radio-play and worldwide attention with the hate rage of “The Rat” from 2004’s Bows + Arrows they appeared on target for great things, but as time has shown, “The Rat” was as much a one-off in their canon, The Walkmen anything but a singles band and rarely sounding so tempestuous.
For a band who’ve promised much, they’ve been frustrating with their delivery, even through the eyes of a believer. 2006’s One Hundred Miles was a mélange of meandering, hookless tunes that recalled a band fresh out of ideas. Their stop-gap project, a re-recording of John Lennon and Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats released four months later gave clues to a revived Walkmen, and even so, four albums down the track you expect to hear something from a band at the top of their game.
Stylistically, You & Me retains the same sonic Walkmen regime of previous releases – a cavernous murky sound, clanging guitars, distant keys, jazzy drums, Leithauser screeching at the top of his range. The sixties influences that have been part of the Walkmen DNA since conception are still evident, from their boozy Buddy Holly buzz to the Dylanesque croon in Leithauser’s quieter moments they’ve always sounded like a Las Vegas bar band with their bags packed for the border.
As evidenced by the title, Leithauser has used You & Me to analyse failed relationships and. at its heart, it’s a record that’s lost and looking for answers. The only love songs here are dead love songs. “Red Moon” is another waltz-time tune, partner-less in dance, accompanied by cheerless brass. Leithauser admitting to an empty room “I miss you/there’s no-one else/I do”. “Seven Years of Holiday” is a letter written on the road, the ramblin’ man now tired of the ramble. “I’ve travelled so far and I’m worn/lived in suitcases for too long…. I’m lost..’ Recent single, “The Blue Route” takes a Bows + Arrows stance and redirects the blame, pointing the finger inward – “what happened to you?”
“Canadian Girl” benefits from the Tijuana trumpets but suffers from trite lyrics, reading like a post-gig one night stand that the lovestruck still hasn’t let go of. Even in its darker moments, of which You & Me is all but late-night loneliness, there is the giddy optimism and fairground sound of “In The New Year”, Leithauser getting a thrill out of his ignorance “oh, I am just like you/I never hear the bad news/and I never will”. The maudlin “If Only It Was True” closes the album, leaving The Walkmen asleep and on the wrong side of the bed.
Those who’ve endured the band since the beginning know where the Walkmen strengths lie, and for a band that have been together a decade now you expect the good times and the bad. Amongst the 14 tracks here are some of their most solid and consistent work, with the band in a sweetly sobering mood that is instantly endearing and gives the album a persistent charm. Like a drunk at the bar who insists on telling you where his life went wrong, you’re compelled to listen.