Album review: The Walkmen – Lisbon (Bella Union)

Album review: The Walkmen - Lisbon (Bella Union)


Emotional New Yorkers use the Portugese capital as impetus for their blisteringly heartfelt fifth album

It’s claimed that, in the average city, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. That distance must feel like an ocean to [a]The Walkmen[/a] who, since 2004, have been haunted by their own musical millstone, ‘[b]The Rat[/b]’. As venomous break-up songs go it’s hard to beat, but for all the song’s brilliance it is, despite claims to the contrary, overshadowed by the New York-based band’s subsequent evolution.

Take 2008’s ‘[b]You & Me[/b]’, a sublime shift for the band, who, having specialised in the pains of the heart, embraced a warmer pathos and wider, brass-infused horizons. After that, it could have been crushing to be confronted with yet more blogs declaring [a]The Walkmen[/a] as one-hit wonders. Fortunately Portugal’s capital – or rather several trips to it during sessions for their fifth album – intervened. While not retreating from the expansiveness ‘[b]You & Me[/b]’ heralded, ‘[b]Lisbon[/b]’ re-embraces the strong percussiveness that pervaded The Walkmen’s earlier work.

Opener ‘[b]Juveniles[/b]’ sets the tone with its crashing cymbals and stark guitar line, yet Hamilton Leithauser’s whimsical vocals let it trip along intoxicatingly, while ‘[b]Angela Surf City[/b]’ might thunder with Bonham-esque drums, but it’s with a wry smile (“[i]Mine is yours, yours is yours[/i]”) rather than rage. ‘[b]Blue As Your Blood[/b]’ ticks along with a clockwork fury, yet is soothed by bruised vocals that yearn for a lost love, before ‘[b]Stranded[/b]’’s mariachi brass crashes its soul onto life’s rocks.

This is an album to fall in love to, to break up to, to drown sorrows to, or to bounce around to. One-hit wonders? Well, the wonders part is right.

[b]Paul Stokes[/b]

Click here to get your copy of The Walkmen’s ‘Lisbon’ from Rough Trade Shops.