“Oh give me a life that needs correction/Nobody loves, loves perfection,” coos lead singer Hamilton Leithauser wry-as-ever on “We Can’t Be Beat.” As far as opening Walkmen statements go, this is about as life-affirming as they get, always the New York boys who’ve loved a good fight with despair, and whatever swirling, slow-burn of a pristine rock landscape they could try and make sense of it with. And, aside from its song title, stands in stark contrast to the album’s collective title, Heaven.
‘Heaven’ could be anything, really, for a band that’s been chasing it for over a decade. Ever since the machine-gun squall of “The Rat” in 2004, when Leithauser first got up on his toes and screamed “can’t you hear me/I”m calling out your name,” everyone who rightly listened to its genius stuck around to listen to their calmer approach to the sentiment over the subsequent years. The horns starting coming to the party (A Hundred Miles Off), mic placement became crucial (You & Me) and by 2010’s Lisbon, the quintet were trying to bridge the rock gap between indie sincerity and classic chug-a-lug Sun Studio glory days.
And so here we are with LP the seventh, the band harmonizing with doo-wop laces that they “can’t be beat,” taking that Sun Studio sound glisteningly further. But then declaring with bright snare snaps that “Love is Luck.” Panning along a reverb-soaked guitar solo pluck and a tugging string veil lofting “line by line we all scrape by.” Ever so delicately falsetto-ing that they “can’t continue on this way.” Even at their most raucous wall-of-sound moment on “Nightingales,” Leithauser’s wailing “It’s all so still, man/No one to call.”
The landscapes are as beautiful as ever. Producer Phil Ek (Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes) did a stunning job of making them sparkle with an organic solace far from the gnar of New York City. But for making a specific point to distance themselves from the “detachment” of their “younger records,” in attempt at a “more generous statement,” the most generous statement here is the bleak-is-beautiful thread they’ve been preaching and dissecting from “The Rat” get-go.
Of course they begin the record claiming nobody’s perfect, and they’re alright with that. So goes the age old relationship between art and tension. So certainly that’s some of the point here, that ‘heaven’ according to The Walkmen, is a place where despair is essential to keep on keeping’ on. And you’ve got a friend in the band should you want it, if you take a cue from the title track:
Our children will always hear
Romantic tales of distant years
Our gilded age may come and go
Our crooked dreams will always glow
Stick with me, oh you’re my best friend
All of my life, you’ve always been
All all we fight for