The Walkmen - Lisbon

Stirring, indelible numbers that only get better on repeat listens.

‘You’re one of us, or one of them’ sings the Walkmen’s frontman Hamilton Leithauser on ‘Juveniles,’ the rollicking first track on ‘Lisbon’, the band’s stellar sixth record. Those lyrics immediately draw a line in the proverbial sand, giving listeners a distinct choice: either put themselves in the position of the vocalist, who is pointing an accusatory finger at the ones who have wronged him (one of us), or you can align yourself with the varied sources of his many troubles, being interesting enough to write songs about but not worthy of any type of reconciliation (one of them). It creates an intriguing dichotomy that is threaded throughout this somewhat subdued but no less stirring record from this seasoned New York City band.

The album has a very loose, untethered feel to it that imbues these songs with an untamed spirit and a real boozy, after-hours atmosphere, as if each and every one of these numbers could be sung en masse by everyone in the bar still alert enough at closing time. And while it lacks the bite of the band’s earlier work, these tracks still have an urgency and a temper to them that make them truly memorable. ‘Juveniles’ has a jangly, countrified appeal that is solidified by Leithauser’s emphatic vocals in the soaring chorus, while ‘Angela Surf City’ has an driving insistence that only swells as the song builds in intensity and tempo. But the album then mellows a bit, as both ‘Blue As Your Blood’ and ‘Stranded’ simmer but never boil over, with western-style rhythms and mournful horns leading the melancholy melodies onward. It’s a graceful step back for the band, but the songs are good enough to resonate strongly with old and new fans alike.

The group kick things back into high gear on ‘Victory,’ a truly boisterous number (how could it not be with that uplifting title) that really plays to the bands strengths, as Leithauser’s gravelly vocals ascend above the raucous pulse of the band, with the odd piano plunks truly centering the song. ‘Woe Is Me’ hearkens back to a simpler era, where classic but catchy songs were featured on the a.m. dial and Chess Records showed people the way to move forward. It’s a great song, but certainly one you didn’t see coming from the Walkmen two or three albums ago.

But that thrilling sense of surprise is what makes ‘Lisbon’ such a great record, and while the songs might represent a different direction for the band, they are still stirring, indelible numbers that only get better on repeat listens. And if the first part of the record represents the intoxicating finish to a night out, the last few songs must be the staggering late night walk home, where everything is tranquil except the thoughts in your head. So the title track closes things out with a jaunty Portuguese riff and rhythm that ends the album just right, letting you know that the morning might be a rough one but the entertaining escapades of the evening are always worth every headache you have to endure.

Tags: The Walkmen, Reviews, Album Reviews

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