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The Walkmen Prove That Getting Dropped Is Not The End

By NME Blog

Posted on 13 Aug 10


There is something about that music industry cliché of "being dropped", that I've always found a bit disingenuous. It sounds like the end of a teenage infatuation or defeat in a fickle popularity contest, not the one way ticket into record label oblivion that it might actually represent. Whether you're pushed or you go by choice (honestly, that does happen) leaving a label represents an uncertain future.

Next month sees the release of a new album that should offer some optimism. As you may have heard, New Yorkers The Walkmen are back with their sixth studio album 'Lisbon', out on September 13. Now as my colleague Luke Lewis pointed out in a blog earlier this week, the band are primarily known to a wider audience – largely thanks to some hammering in episodes of The OC – for their 2004 single 'The Rat'.

Baring in mind how awesome it is, it's not hard to see why that perception exists, though I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with Luke and say not only do The Walkmen have more than one good song, 'The Rat' probably isn't even their best (not bad seeing as it was voted 13 in NME's tracks of the last decade).

Their last album, 'You & Me', boasted some moments of absolute beauty to rival their earlier single's aggression, with 'In The New Year', in particular, being a bittersweet anthem that I think bests the earlier work.

As for 'Lisbon', which we got hold of in the office this week, it continues the band's evolution from their early fury into a more expansive, visionary outfit. From jaunty opener 'Juveniles', through 'Blue As Your Blood' which ticks along with an unnerving precision, to the near 60s pop feel of 'Woe Is Me' (admittedly 60s pop that's stayed up all night, and is starring at the world bleary-eyed the next morning), the album is already sounding impressive on just a few listens.

Yes, frontman Hamilton Leithauser still sings like the lovelorn, wounded animal he did on the 'The Rat', but now he does it with added soul.

Of course, if you've only heard 'The Rat' and not the progression in between, then 'Lisbon' will sound like a quantum leap – as Hamilton recently told American GQ: "Our engineer was lecturing me on how this new album needs to sound more like The Walkmen But I think we got a little spark going".

But what's really impressive is the band have managed this transformation despite having left their original label, Record Collection, a few years ago and have spent time on a variety of other indies since. With falling record sales, it's inspiring that the band have managed to carve out space and time for their music despite needing to seek new record deals.

Encouragingly The Walkmen are not alone. Interpol are about to take a similar step with their self-titled fourth album, having opted to leave their previous label. The Mystery Jets have been hailed for their best record yet having left the umbrella of Warners and opted for Rough Trade, while The Horrors flourished into one of Britain's most progressive bands with their move to XL.

To be fair to the bands – and the A&R folk who originally signed them – acts aren't dropped from labels due to some abstract assessment of their quality, there are plenty of economics, contract clauses and mutual decisions to part company, that lead to bands being without a home, and it must be noted, with new acts in particular, that the input, guidance and ultimately the gamble that labels take on bringing us fresh talent can be invaluable.

What a tale like The Walkmen shows though is once you've got your foot in the door, being without a label is not necessarily the career-ending curse it might seem to be.

They may have lacked a label security between records, but The Walkmen have been free to make a really good album their fans (and hopefully a few more non-believers) will really want to hear, and not 'The Rat (Part 4)'.


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