You know, in the same way that the comparisons made about Wolf Parade and Destroyer to David Bowie never ring true, I never really saw the U2 influence on The Walkmen. Sure, both bands made music that had a big sense of drama and emotion to it, but only U2 could really be called anthemic.
Until now. Heaven, the new album from The Walkmen, is anthemic...but does it sound like a Walkmen album? Does it matter?
Heaven is the first time The Walkmen have allowed themselves to be so obvious about who they're working with. Meaning that the bright, full sound of producer Phil Ek and the vocal contributions from Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes are as clear as day. Odd to think this was the same band who blended the vocals of the otherwise grating guy from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! so well into one of their songs on their last record that I don't think many people even noticed him. But I digress. The clear-as-day Fleet Foxes influence, aside from the times when Pecknold is singing, is in the way Hamilton Leithauser is approaching vocals this time out. When I saw The Walkmen open for Fleet Foxes last year, he seemed to be trying out a new more powerful style, belting out lyrics and holding onto notes until your heart shook with the full sound of it. This is definitely fully realized on tracks like 'Heaven' and 'The One You Love', and it's hard not to get swept up in their energy and pull. Leithauser's singing may have been rough, and a sticking point for some, in the band's past but on Heaven he sings his heart out.
While The Walkmen may not always sound like The Walkmen on Heaven, the attempts to simultaneously grow and mature their sound are all successes. Song for song, it'd be tough to find a record in the band's discography that can match Heaven. Lisbon comes close though its surf and ethnic flourishes felt self conscious, whereas the variety on display here—from the claustrophobic-and-yet-anthemic 'The Witch', to the solo acoustic ballad 'Southern Heart', to the charging arena rock guitar slashes and clap-a-long drum beat of 'Heartbreaker'--is dizzying even as it all manages to cohere.
In tipping their hat to their classic rock and contemporary influences, The Walkmen have stumbled on a way to make a mature, dad-rock/contented-family-life record just as thrilling and richly rewarding as their previous albums with the aforementioned flourishes and stripped down production style. It may not perhaps grab you as closely and emotionally as their other albums, but like a surprisingly stylish hand-me-down suit from a Grandfather, you know someday you'll grow into it.