Album review: The Walkmen take listeners to rock ‘n’ roll ‘Heaven’

The Walkmen
“Heaven”
Fat Possum

The Walkmen have transcended steadily into their sound on “Heaven,” with propulsive drum beats and harmonized vocals not unlike those of the Everly Brothers.

“Heaven,” the band’s seventh studio album, is a cohesive collection punctuated by vocal consonance, rhythmically-coercive drums and guitar and bass that are as cordial as they are not overbearing. Walkmen fans and listeners that are familiar with the band’s previous work might notice a happier, lighter mood on “Heaven.”

The album starts out slow on “We Can’t Be Beat,” which showcases close vocal harmonies. Hamilton Leithauser croons “Golden dreams are losing glow/I don’t need perfection, I love the hope,” backed by acoustic guitar and subtle background vocals, allowing for a switch to electric guitar and gentle drum stomping mid-song. Leithauser’s voice keeps any attention from straying from what he’s singing, or more appropriately, reminiscing about, when he says “It’s been so long/but I made it through.”

The album’s title track is a prime four-minute showcase of drums and guitars as heard on other tracks, but the vocals are more robust in expression. Coupled with a more prominent backing of bass, guitar and directing drums, “Heaven” jars the listener out of a pleasantly lethargic part of the album and rouses one into the remainder, where more traditional elements of rock ‘n’ roll move forward.

With a chorus consisting of “Remember, remember what we fight for,” the title track is undoubtedly nostalgic, especially when Leithauser pleads and courts listeners, opening with “Our children will always hear romantic tales of distant years/Our gilded age may come and go/our crooked dreams will always glow.” For a band that’s been admired by fans for their endearing instability, the Walkmen haven’t dulled, though the band’s work on “Heaven” certainly stands on its own.

In “The Love You Love,” Leithauser half-sings and half-shouts “Where we are and where we should be” and “Baby it’s the love you love, not me” signaling a sound similar to albums past. “The Love You Love” signifies an ideal split between sides on a vinyl album. The tempo’s faster, Leithauser’s voice is less like Don or Phil Everly, and simply carries as Leithauser’s own sound — the kind heard on earlier songs, such as “Little House of Savages” — but that’s not to say that Leithauser’s vocals haven’t refined on “Heaven.”

The songs on “Heaven” share simplified lyrics and precise arrangements that sometimes echo ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. The lyrical content overlaps nostalgia and reminiscence, and while there’s no teeth-clenching guitar riffs and whines that may have been considered a staple of the band a decade ago, the album more than holds up based on its sound and its own terms.

“Heaven” will be released on June 5 on Fat Possum Records. 88.1 KDHX welcomes the Walkmen to St. Louis for a show at Plush on June 28.

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