Jonathan Fire Eater eventually dissolved but three members
(Keyboardist Walter Martin, drummer Matt Barrick, guitarist Paul Maroon)
joined forces with singer Hamilton Leithauser to form the Walkmen.
On their debut EP, The Walkmen (StarTime International, 2000),
the singer impersonates a cross between
Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger,
while the music is steeped in grass-roots rock
(Wake Up, We've Been Had, The Crimps).
The sound on Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone (Star Time, 2002),
emphasizing distorted keyboards and rhythm, is a dead ringer for the
(old) new wave. The overall tone is intellectual and bordering on existential.
The touching atmospheric piano ballad Stop Talking, the neurotic
Roll Down The Line and the disjointed I'm Never Bored
are emblematic of the emphasis on psychological instrumental settings.
Manic strumming is coupled with fervid crooning in They're Winning.
The six-minute It Should Take A While sounds like a Freudian trip inside
The U2 influence is still strong on
Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, but mostly the Walkmen
prefer a humble, colloquial tone.
The songs, though, tend to be too verbose: this is a band that wants to
tell you a story, not play some music. The music is a mere accessory
to draw your attention.
Bows & Arrows (Record Collection, 2004) is an adult work that
uses music to deliver stories and meditations, and not so much to
entertain. There are relatively few rousing moments
(the hard-rocking The Rat, the pounding My Old Man).
On the contrary, the mood can be as subdued as in the
organ-driven litany What's In It For Me and the
melancholy piano elegy Hang On Siobhan.
Inevitably the band ends up evoking the pillars of rock populism:
the anthemic and Bob Dylan-esque 138th Street,
the passionate Bruce Springsteen-ian sermon The North Pole,
the galloping U2-esque hymn Thinking Of A Dream I Had.
The Walkmen's subsequent album,
A Hundred Miles Off (2006), was more derivative of the classics of
grass-roots rock, despite its Latin overtones.
Pussy Cats (Record Collection, 2006) was even worse: a remake
of Harry Nilsson and John Lennon's album Pussy Cats (1974).
You And Me (2008), instead, marked a return to form with their most
evocative and introspective (if not original) material yet.
It is probably the most melodic collection of their career, thanks to
the romantic Mexican fanfare Red Moon,
the calm country-rock meditation On The Water,
the waltzing nostalgic Seven Years Of Holidays,
and the usual U2-esque threnody,
The Blue Route.
The band has relearned how to attach movement to a story. Sometimes it
happens outside the classic genres, coining a nervous hybrid of
noise-rock and acid-rock (Postcards From Tiny Islands and Four Provinces).
The soaring invocation of In the New Year mixes Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart on similar
Overall, this is their most musical album yet.
The Walkmen's academic folk-rock offered a "lite" version of itself on the
best songs of Lisbon (Fat Possum, 2010), ostensibly inspired by the sound of
vintage rockabilly. At the same time a handful of these songs experimented
with structure in a way that the Walkmen had never done:
the explosive "Angela Surf City",
the Caribbean-tinged "Woe is Me", the mariachi-tinged "Stranded,"
"Blue as Your Blood", that evolves like a tidal-wave crescendo via a
trotting musichall rhythm, desolate Leonard Cohen-esque crooning and a synth-strings build-up.
While not as profound as
You And Me (2008), this album is actually more creative from a
purely musical point of view.
The retro-nostalgic tendency overflows on Heaven (Fat Possum, 2012) from
the romantic, agonizing Leonard Cohen-esque Southern Heart
and the dark Doors-ian The Witch,
that belong to the 1960s,
to the intimate lullaby We Can't Be Beat and
the slow dance No One Ever Sleeps that both evoke the 1950s.
The album wakes up with the
jangling and propulsive Heaven U2
but it keeps sinking and drowning in songs like the
majestically spare hymn of Line By Line.
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