No matter what The Walkmen achieve in their career, nobody will ever be able to write a review of anything they do without, at some point, referencing the song ‘The Rat’ from their 2004 album Bows + Arrows. It is their most commercially successful single by a huge margin and has become so prominent with their name that it seems impossible to shake off, arguably because it was featured in an episode of the massively popular teen-drama The O.C – before it got shit.
So the band may like or loathe it, but it is inevitable that that song will serve as a bench mark for everything they do – probably forever.
That is not to say that the band have not moved on or progressed. They have been steadily putting out wonderful, charming, ever improving records for 10 years now and their last, 2008’s You & Me, is widely considered to be their best effort to date. It was spectacularly well received by critics and fans alike.
So the big question for a band that have so far followed a trend of improving with every new record, is this; Is it possible for them to improve upon an album that was as cracking as You & Me?
Well, if it doesn’t better that record Lisbon certainly equals it and that is very nearly praise enough in itself.
The thing about Lisbon is that it is such a damn confident record. It is the sound of a band that know exactly how good they are and they are only too happy to prove it.
The production is much sharper than their previous records and it sounds as if they have gone to painstaking lengths to ensure that the levels are just so – both of which enable frontman Hamilton Leithauser’s distinctive vocals to shine in the foreground like never before. A fact that becomes immediately apparent on opener ‘Juveniles’. The song is all jangly guitars and simple percussion and Leithauser’s vocal is simply incredible. It stands out and drives the song forward from the second he takes to the microphone and, happily, this becomes something of a pattern throughout the record.
‘Blue As Your Blood’ is another example of this, the vocal gliding effortlessly above the rhythmic chugging of guitars and drums.
Elsewhere ‘Stranded’ demonstrates that they are able to slow things down and still sound just as effective. Leithauser croons soulfully over a harmony of wind instruments “You don’t want me / You can tell me / I’m the bigger man here.” Whilst ‘Woe Is Me’ sounds almost surf rock which is a new sound for these guys and leaves you hoping they explore it a little more in the future.
The pinnacle of the entire record however, is without doubt ‘Angela Surf City’. It comes packed with a delightfully explosive chorus which grabs the song by the bollocks and drags it kicking and screaming onto the dance floor. It is one of those infectious songs that leaves you in awe every time you hear it.
Lisbon just proves further that The Walkmen are one of those truly special bands that never cease to dazzle us. It is a stunning record and who knows – it might even be able to finally kill ‘The Rat’.