Album Review: The Walkmen ‘Heaven’
We have all heard the saying that with age comes responsibility. I quickly realized that once the four-year party that owns the moniker of college came to an end, a growing stack of accountability followed. Job deadlines, bill payments, and serious relationships promptly became the norm while days dedicated to vicious drinking sessions slowly fell by the wayside. If these immature days do pop up they are followed by a hangover so bad that you actually consider never drinking again. The hangovers continue to get worse and the false promises continue to grow. While nothing that I just depicted comes across as enjoyable, I find a continued satisfaction with growing up because there is a silver lining that comes with experience. With each e-bill transaction I make or each goal I hit at work I feel like I am gaining maturity and this is not necessarily a bad thing. With maturity comes polish and with this shine offers anyone in their mid to late 20s the ability to be taken a little more seriously than the days of doing beer bongs in the bathroom. This self-proclamation for the acceptance of time passing is not meant to promote my deep feelings, but more of an opportunity to tie these thoughts with a band. Once a rugged, less-accessible indie rock band, The Walkmen have embraced maturity and display their grown up side with their recent release Heaven.
My initial exposure to The Walkmen came in 2004 when they opened up for The Strokes in Indianapolis during the Room on Fire tour. They had just released their second studio album Bows + Arrows and began to generate a lot of buzz with songs like “The Rat”. I remember thinking little of their live performance. I tried to grasp their album because they were opening up for my favorite band in the world, but it refused to stick. As a listener I stood on a parallel line with The Walkmen’s musical progression. Introduce Bows + Arrows to me at the age of 27 and it would be the front-runner for album of the year. It was like giving a toddler a sip of beer. I was being given a taste of something that I just was too immature to realize how incredible it would turn out to become.
The Walkmen have released four other records in an eight-year span since my introduction in 2004. Their two-year life cycle release schedule has allowed me to stay engaged with The Walkmen, while identifying their uncanny ability to progress as a band. Before their 2010 release of Lisbon, they were just another band to me. That was the record that really grabbed my attention. This was a band that was for me all along and Lisbon gave me the opportunity to look back at the evolution. Looking back, I find that each two-year term has allowed The Walkmen to add an additional layer to their music and continue to grow as a band. The release of Heaven highlights their growth through experience and the wisdom that comes with age.
Before the listener hits play on Heaven, one will quickly identify the maturity that I mention in this post. Photos of band members and their children line the inside and back covers of Heaven. After several dozen spins, these photographs make all the sense in the world. Children force maturity. It is my best assumption that The Walkmen were able to make Heaven shine by transmitting this maturity in their music. This record is their tightest and most advanced. It signifies their bond as this record was recorded in three separate cities. They display the ability to work remotely while being effective, the ultimate sign of a group of professionals.
The Walkmen offer their best songwriting to date, while exploring the opportunity to tie it together with moments of musical simplicity. Opening track, “We Can’t Be Beat” begins with simple finger picking, lead-singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice and supporting vocals. This song draws listeners to not only to Leithauser’s beautiful voice, but also introduces new listeners to the synergy that comes after 10 years of experience. The line, “We’ll never leave, we can’t be beat” underscores the confidence that only comes with experience. This line serves as the opening remarks of Heaven where it almost seems as if Leithauser is challenging the listener to either take it or leave it.
The next opportunity for the listener to identify The Walkmen’s acceptance of time is in song “Heartbreaker”. Here, Leithauser belts out, “These are the good years, ahh the best we’ll ever know, these golden light-years”, which plays to the “yeah we are old and have kids, but we can still do it” card. This song offers the classic delivery that we have come to know The Walkmen by, but offers it in a more polished tone. “Heartbraker” serves as a cleaner, more accessible version of earlier material from The Walkmen.
The exclamation point of this record is the first single and title track “Heaven”. Opening lines, “Our children will always hear romantic tales of distant years, our guilty age may come and go, our crooked dreams will always glow” offers listeners a quick summary of what believe The Walkmen are trying to inform the listener during this entire record. Time provides certain ripeness to life, while offering the ability to quickly glance back at the past. It is these types of visions that The Walkmen are able to paint throughout this record that verify to me that they have not only grown as a band, but many of us have as listeners. A mutual musical maturation where both sides are able to progress together even if it comes with a few gray hairs.
With each successive spin of Heaven, I begin to consider the importance of what it means to grow up. While diapers are changed more often than guitar strings these days, The Walkmen have somehow found more time for detail. I have progressed as a listener, it is my hope that I can find success in my own personal maturation as the days continue to fly by. Maybe I can start now by putting a limit on how much I am going to drink this weekend…maybe.
Written by Brett McGrath