If you want to know why your smartest, most iconoclastic friends speak in hushed tones about The Walkmen, check out the opening track of their new album Heaven. In five minutes, this band seemingly sums up rock history, referencing doo wop, “The Duke Of Earl,” folk-rock and Lou Reed’s street poetry. All crowned by Hamilton Leithauser’s winsome croon. This might explain all the hipster fuss.
Still, Heaven isn’t pastiche, despite betraying its influences. Take “The Witch.” Sure, the organ icily echoes Elvis Costello circa ’78. But here, Leithauser’s brings his very own romantic anomie. “It starts like this,” he sings, “A kiss is just a kiss.” Which introduces the overarching theme of the record: Love, man! Love so right. Love gone wrong. Guys who drive through Michigan just to taste it. But this album ain’t just a mopefest for lovelorn eggheads. The band, especially guitarist Paul Maroon, backs Leithauser like an indie U2. That means muscle, not bombast. And U2 could never play a roadhouse instrumental like “Jerry’s Tune.”
Maybe such eclecticism hasn’t helped the band’s commercial fortunes. But slip on these Walkmen and you won’t care. Ten years on? Hah! These “Men” are just hitting their stride.