Take Us to Portugal and Tell Us Your Woes
It’s taken some time, but The Walkmen seem to have hit their stride. On their sixth album Lisbon, they’ve continued to hone a sound they’ve been working towards for the past couple of records. The result is an impressive set of new songs.
There’s potential for Walkmen fans to be disappointed here. Looking back to the early 2000s, when the boys from D.C. migrated to Brooklyn, they were significantly harder, harsher and grimier. Some still long for 2004 and Bows + Arrows, featuring a single called “The Rat.” Its propulsive beat, chaotic guitar, and merciless drum underneath Hamilton Leithauser’s wail are but small parts of their current sound. With Lisbon, they quiet their New York-born rage and expand to include a lot more brass, piano, texture and emotion.
Album opener “Juveniles” contains a lot of what 2008’s You & Me had: pointed and spare but distinct guitar parts, simple drumming, and Leithauser’s unmistakable howl. There are plenty of elements at work on both records: surf and reverb-heavy garage rock, with a little post-punk angst for flavor. But on Lisbon and the last record, we get shoved into realms of the international that nobody saw coming. “Four Provinces,” a standout from the previous record, was a simple song radiating Beirut-flavored percussion and rhythm. “Juveniles” has a little bit of that, too, as does the beautiful “Stranded.”
Surf rock continues to explode in indie rock, and in new Walkmen songs like “Angela Surf City,” the sun-shiny “Woe Is Me,” and the absolutely stellar “Victory.” One of the pillars of surf rock seems to be simplicity, and that’s something that the Walkmen execute perfectly. Much critical ink has been spilled about Lisbon, as with critical darlings The National, about cashing in on emotional grief and the sadsack blues these two bands peddle as content. So here we get fairly simple songs (disregarding the brass section on a few tracks) and unadventurous content, but excellent execution. It’s still beautifully visceral and rewarding.
Perhaps most beguiling is the lyrical content, practically cramming poetics down rock fans’ throats. Nearly everything is just vague enough to belie specifics that would illuminate scenes, or allow the listener to imagine scenarios that produced these drunk and sad songs. Like on the first, almost misleadingly depressing single, “Stranded,” things get more slurred as the song goes on until at the climax Leithauser belts out, “What’s the story / With my old friends / Drunk and lonely / To the end / How I love ’em all.” In a way, that seems to be what The Walkmen wish to do on Lisbon: give their fans another bunch of friends with whom they can get drunk and forget all their troubles. Consider it a job well done, boys.