How apropos a title for The Walkmen's return to CD racks. The band that brought us a blitzkrieg of hellfire and brimstone in the shape of steely guitars, haunting organs, and punch-drunk vocals has cast its shadow a hundred miles away from the sounds that echoed throughout Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and the underappreciated Bows and Arrows. Gone are the days of feeling winter's cold grasp or spring's warming hand emitting from their music. Gone are the nights of drunken debauchery and heartbreak, as Hamilton Leithauser accompanied your pounding headache with the pounding drums of "I'm Never Bored." What's left is the shell of what once was and the outline of what is to come – whether it's a beautiful butterfly stretching its wings or a beige moth ready to devour through old rags in fits of hunger and hysteria remains to be seen. What we do know is this: A Hundred Miles Off is yet another evolution for The Walkmen, and what you make of it will most likely determine whether or not you plan on sticking it out with the band through thick and thin.
The story of The Walkmen has always been a tale of two bands. There's the desperation burning both ends of the candle ("The Rat," "Wake Up," and "My Old Man,") and the calm employing slow guitars and moaning organs ("We've Been Had," "French Vacation," and "No Christmas While I'm Talking"). These contrasts cease to exist on A Hundred Miles Off. Where's the anguish? Where's the cool under pressure? This is not the band prepared to drink off the latest love-gone-awry. This is not the band willing to wail to the jukebox, pouring their hearts into every word. It's one thing to expand your sound, to try something different. It's another to completely abandon ship to see what sinks and what floats. Cream may rise to the top, but so can shit.
Taking in the Creole country stomp of "Louisiana" would have many believing that the cream has floated higher than the shit. This whimsical, carefree version of The Walkmen is fun. Factor in the fantastic horn interludes and ragtime piano and yet another Walkmen classic has been born. Charging from the rear is "Tenleytown," the quickest, hardest-hitting, punkiest song The Walkmen have ever created. In a three-minute flurry, A Hundred Miles Off is able to shake off most of the stench. The easygoing "Brandy Alexander" helps the cream further distance itself from the sewer-dwelling tracks with a rock beat and a country attitude. The shit, however, isn't ready to sink just yet. "All Hands and the Cook" is just a boring rehash of the desperation The Walkmen once carried around with heads held high. The disjointed guitars coupled with Leithauser's out-of-range vocals is just a cheap reproduction of what the band did so well with albums one and two. The warped pop-rock of "Lost in Boston" is a lame attempt at a friendlier "Little House of Savages," and as if on cue, Leithauser once again forgets how to belt out his signature wail, using it in all the wrong places.
As for the rest of the album? Sadly, it's just the maligned sections of Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and Bows and Arrows. The battle between the cream and the shit ends in a perpetual give-and-take, but it's the positives of A Hundred Miles Off we will remember in the long run. "Louisiana" is destined to become a live hit, and "Emma, Get Me a Lemon" has potential to become a cult favorite for The Walkmen's legion of fans. The album may not be the landmark smash or breakthrough many were banking on, but some good will come of this. Whether the backlash causes the band to refocus or the praise creates a vacuum wherein The Walkmen will never escape remains to be seen. It's just a travesty that there isn't a Howard Cosell or a Gordon Solie to call the play-by-play of what will continue to be a highly contested match between sinkers and floaters.
2. Danny's at the Wedding
3. Good for You's Good for Me
4. Emma, Get Me a Lemon
5. All Hands and the Cook
6. Lost in Boston
7. Don't Get Me Down (Come On Over Here)
9. This Job is Killing Me
10. Brandy Alexander
11. Always After You ('Til You Started After Me)
12. Another One Goes By