Despite being consistently solid for an entire decade, New York’s five-some The Walkmen have still found themselves swimming a bit under the radar in comparison to their indie rock contemporaries like Spoon, Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand, and the Strokes. Maybe The Walkmen lack the flair and flash of their counterparts, but it’s difficult to deny the strength of their music, which maybe even hit its peak with their last release, Lisbon. Now comes another striking release in Heaven, which stands as their prettiest and most uplifting album to date.
Heaven starts on an earnest and charming note in “We Can’t Beat”, a moonlit serenade that has lead man Hamilton Leithauser going from vulnerable to asserted over a delightful chorus of harmonies (including Robin Pecknold of Fleet Fox fame) and campfire guitar. “Heartbreaker” is highlighted by that classic chiming Walkmen guitar over a driving rhythm and led by a strong but simple chorus – the song screams with the catchiness of a classic rock ‘n’ roll tune without sounding the least bit derivative. “Songs for Leigh” is dedicated to his one-year old daughter, and is just beaming with love, even if the song borders on being a bit too syrupy.
Lyrically, Heaven is full of lines that just jump off the page and catch you. “Give me a life that needs correction; nobody loves perfection,” sings Leithauser on “We Can’t Beat”, speaking to the importance of being ok with being broken. “Love Is Luck” speaks on the incredible rareness that is lasting love, “After the fun, after all the bubble gum/ There is no sweetness left on my tongue.” Even in his most angsty days, Leithauser has always been a wonderful songwriter (highlighted in the paranoia of “The Rat”), but it seems all the more apparent now with the band’s more thoughtful sound and voice. “Line by Line” has the song’s word match its spirit as Leithauser sings “Line by line, we all scrape by” as the song seemingly hangs in the balance – held together by each lyrical phrase before finding strength with an uplifting, string-laden finish.
If there is a criticism for Heaven, it is that Leithauser and crew compromise a little bit of their snarling uniqueness in favor of a more generic pop rock sound, but I would say for the most part it is a worthy compromise considering how strong the songs are. On “Southern Heart”, Leithauser’s cheerful voice sounds dangerously close to Ryan Miller of Guster, but the song meanders along pretty enough to make it worthwhile.
Unlike most albums, Heaven finishes as strong as it starts. “Jerry Jr.’S Tune” is a beautiful classic rock ‘n’ roll segue; the redundantly titled “The Love You Love” is the most peppy Heaven gets and really kicks the album back in to gear for its fourth and final act. Title track and lead single “Heaven” continues the energy with its warm sound and likeable persistence. “No One Ever Sleeps” is ironically as sleepy as Heaven gets but in the best way, and “Dreamboat” finishes things on a charming yet theatric finish standing as one of Hamilton’s finest vocal performances on Heaven.
Full of the sparkle they discovered on Lisbon, Heaven is a grownup’s rock album, full of musical sophistication and teeming with a rare balance of head and heart.
Can’t Miss: “We Can’t Be Beat”, “Heartbreaker”, “No One Ever Sleeps”
Can’t Hit: “The Witch”