There comes a time in every reviewer’s life when he/she has to admit that she/he is letting his/her feelings get in the way of an objective review.
This, however, is not one of those times. Despite Lisbon’s dullard-isms, which I will fully detail via the conclusion to this review and the shoddy “3” grade attached, The Walkmen have taken another step toward becoming the band we all knew they COULD/SHOULD/WOULD become. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how many will find this out, as “Juveniles” is a limp opening track that is so off-putting, especially compared to You & Me’s riveting opener “Donde Esta la Playa,” I’m surprised Lisbon isn’t their major-label debut. (And have you seen the YouTube clip of the W-men performing “Juveniles” at Sasquatch 2009? I feel fortunate that the song has improved as much as it has since then.) It has that generic quality to it where there’s nothing overt to criticize; maybe the first two plays are serviceable, but once you delve deeper, you realize there’s nothing there to hold your interest.
Packing it in after one song is pathetic but typical in the MP3 age. (How else can you explain all these bands Making It on the strength of one, maybe two songs?) So if you, gentle, unassuming reader, take this path, I can only pity you, because Lisbon is The Walkmen’s warts-and-all, authentic step toward connecting their past (Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone) to their future (when they’re as big as Weezer and as respected as— damn, popular music SUCKS, I can’t even think of an example of a well-respected band. R.E.M. maybe?). That may sound cliché, but The Walkmen are one of those bands that brings out the Admirer in me, and if you don’t feel the same way, you haven’t been paying attention.
And if you haven’t, it’s not too late. I’d say there’s no shame in going straight to Lisbon’s titular sources of heat, in this case “Follow the Leader” (anyone who mentions Korn gets a boot to the brain), “Blue as Your Blood,” “Woe is Me,” and “Stranded.” These four songs are the sturdy fulcrum on which the somewhat shaky Lisbon rests, and they’re as good a reason as any to jump on the bandwagon while the bandwagon’s still got room.
“Follow the Leader” is one of those in-between cuts The Walkmen often bungle, and is perhaps the most pleasant surprise, bathed as it is in vibes straight off their debut album and, in general, a distant tom-tom rumble and more of that weeping guitar that Paul Maroon has essentially patented. Can anyone make a six-string sing and sting with such zing? Ning.
“Blue as Your Blood” is more of a straight-up, trad Walkmen track, and it works well, and diligently, as such, sort of like “On the Water” with more blatant, moody overtures and less vague atmospherics. “Stranded,” a buzz-track that still hasn’t quite blown up the way I thought it would, equates to nothing less than the sound of a Rock band with a brand new, killer weapon — namely, the horns that were a bit shaky on past recordings — newly sharpened and ready to shank. “Stranded” is in itself so good I am helpless to do much more than say, well, it’s fuckin’ great.
Which brings me to Lisbon’s absolute STUN-gunner, “Woe is Me.” As good as early versions of the track were — notice how they integrated the last guitar build-up into the frame of the song: nice, but weird once you’ve heard the final cut a few-dozen times — the end result is so good I found myself, for the first time since “Olsen Olsen” and “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two,” literally tearing up during its ending climax. And I ask you: Is it even possible to ROCK THIS GODDAMN HARD? “Woe is Me” is the addictive Elvis Costello song I’ve heard a lot about but still never Heard (if you can fix this gap in my life please do so via email/track link), and it coheres so effortlessly into a head-bashing yet beautiful finale that I, again, as with “Stranded,” find that I can do little to truly elaborate its splendor.
Which brings me to the, shall we say, less-than-splendiferous instances. “Victory” might be the worst song The Walkmen have recorded. It’s pedantic and poopy; no pop to match the fizz. “Juveniles,” as mentioned, is straight-up going to queer the deal for many, and “Torch Song,” while not bad by any fabric-stretch, is just not A-list material when you’ve got cuts like “Thinking of a Dream I Had” and “Brandy Alexander” in the hopper.
So yes, I have my reservations regarding Lisbon. It seems determined to match each of its firecracker sparks with a craggly, over-dimpled dud. And I say it again: Don’t let the missteps — or my tough-love Final Number Grade — lead you astray. The Walkmen are that rare band that can stretch into all manner of different shapes and retain their oneness with the rock gods, and they’ve held onto the zeal that made them stand out like a diamond among the other jeweled NYC bands with impeccable resumes in the early aughts. Don’t forget, this quintet have more than outlasted their peers. Remember The Libertines? The Strokes? Interpol? Remember how warm, hot, and fuzzy they made you feel initially, only to lose it all with spotty frontman solo crap and sloooow-ass output? The difference between The Walkmen and the rest of their generation — and modern rock, in general — is startling; I hope enough people realize it so that The Walkmen don’t feel they have to break up and reunite just to get us to care.