The Walkmen – HeavenPosted by Justin Spicer
“The band in heaven/They play my favorite song/Play it one more time/Play it all night long” – David Byrne
The lyric from Talking Heads’ “Heaven” is a strong summation of The Walkmen. The band has long found itself standing still, gradually transitioning from era to era under the watchful eyes of adoring fans. From the band’s bombastic beginnings (Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone, Bows & Arrows) through the more melodic (A Hundred Miles Off, You & Me, Lisbon), the remaining constant has been a similar tone. The haunting refrain of Hamilton Leithauser driving the band’s frenetic pace; running toward nothing but running nonetheless.
Heaven signals the end of the band’s rat race. Each period of the band culminates in the richly recorded album, a bittersweet product of 12 years of carving out an identity, but as one is wont to do when reaching the finish line, Heaven suffers from the pause and the panting. Leithauser’s voracious vocals no longer the product of burning lungs, here an exasperated sigh, the stringed fury of Paul Maroon and Peter Bauer tempered by exhaustion after providing the pace for some many years.
Leithauser’s proclamation during the chorus of “Heartbreaker” (“I’m not your heartbreaker/Some tender balladeer”) establishes the easy mood, the urgency replaced by content. The climatic rise of the bridge harkens back to the band’s early sonic assault but never plants its feet from a full lunge. It’s a recycled trope throughout Heaven. Opener “We Can’t Be Beat” is a tired attempt at the grand openers from The Walkmen’s past, unable to rev itself up for one last sprint.
When the band does get out of the starting blocks, it’s not at the break neck speed of their youth. The guitar melody driving “Nightingales” is not as furious, the choruses taking leisurely breaks for the band to catch their breath. The title track relies on Matt Barrick’s energetic drum track to produce any movement, Leithauser still restraining his anthemic voice.
The Walkmen have grown up over the course of 12 tumultuous years, but Heaven offers no victory lap. Bent over, hand-on-knees Heaven wheezes as it breaks the tape. Life has finally caught up with the band, the mature and contemplative Walkmen too exhausted to run the race one more time. The boys too old and riddled with arthritis; they have their own responsibilities which to attend; it’s our time to set the hot lap.
“Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/Nothing ever happens”