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The Walkmen

Lisbon


[Fat Possum / Bella Union; 2010]



By ; September 15, 2010 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

On The Walkmen’s last album – and probably their finest work – You & Me, the band sounded bigger than ever. They did so mainly through mixing the album to make it sound as if the band were playing at the bottom of a well. The whole thing echoed magnificently, giving them a unique niche and a sound they could call their own. This time around the band has gone for amore clean-cut sound, everything is direct, effects and instruments outside of the sound of the main core of the band are used to a minimum; this one is more about the marriage of Leithauser’s voice and Paul Maroon’s guitar. On the one hand it’s a shame to lose so much of the atmosphere that made You & Me memorable, but a simple powerhouse of guitar and vocals from The Walkmen can be one of the most commanding sounds in modern music, as anyone who has heard their breakthrough hit “The Rat” can attest.

“Victory” and “Angela Surf City” are the primary examples of this louder style on Lisbon, the latter possessing a magnificently spirited and full-blooded chorus with the most lung-bursting vocal Leithauser has provided to date; a true moment of brilliant concordance from the band. However, for the most part on this album the band seems happier to sit back and produce more subdued and subtle melodies, allowing Leithauser to show us his ability as a singer to carry the tune. This is also supported by the new attitude they are sporting here; in the past the band have always seemed restless and driven by their emotions, this time around they cut a much more contented disposition.

When they make this work it’s some of their most affecting pieces to date; “Blue As Your Blood” is along the similar themes to previous works – a breakup – but instead of becoming angry or hurt about it as they may have previously, the song presents a wistful tale of bittersweet memories told under a clear blue sky. Meanwhile the band works meticulously around the words, adding strings to increase emotion at the pivotal moments. The song never explodes, because it doesn’t need to. It’s like the musical equivalent of the phrase “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” and as we all know the disappointment is often the more effective method of relaying emotion.

The other main highlights of the softer side of Lisbon come from when Leithauser seems to be revelling in the life that surrounds him. A regal horn section winningly supports him as he explains his satisfaction in being stranded and starry-eyed in “Stranded,” and in “While I Shovel The Snow” the simplest of twinkling guitars backs his glorious diatribe on one of life’s simplest beauties; a winter’s snowfall.

Despite the fact that there is only one real dud on this album (“Follow The Leader”) it still doesn’t quite reach the heights the band have previously set for themselves. The trouble is that there is not quite enough variance in the songs. There are so many slower ones that when one comes along that doesn’t quite have anything obviously ear-catching to it (“All My Great Designs,” “Torch Song”) the album hits a sticky patch and seems sluggish. “Woe Is Me” has a go at quickening the pace in the album’s slothful second half, but what’s really needed is another song in the vein of “Angela Surf City,” which is undoubtedly the track that will be receiving the most repeat listens from casual fans.

Lisbon has a few disappointing aspects but in no way is it a disappointment. There are plenty of positives to take from this but the main and most obvious one is that The Walkmen are as good as ever; musically they still have the knack for a great melody and lyrically Leithauser is writing more confidently than ever, if only they’d combined those two facts in a more dynamic manor more often, Lisbon would have been the out and out success that You & Me was.


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