The Walkmen have been angrily rocking since 2000. But on “Lisbon,” their latest studio album, they’re starting to change.
This may have to do with the idea that everything around them inevitably changes, as the lyric from “Juveniles” suggests (“You’re someone else / tomorrow night / doesn’t matter to me”).
The Walkmen still care. But as they are growing up, the thrill of defending a rigid, idealistic view of the world has lost its edge.
They follow by saying, “Cause there’s a sun dying / into the hill / you got all I need.” Their settling says instead that human beings can have all that they need despite the changes that take them away from what they think they want.
Fans of Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) may be interested to know that he interned under The Walkmen at Columbia University. Under their tutelage, Vampire Weekend developed an offshoot of the fast-paced, guitar-driven anthems of The Walkmen.
Thus, the first three songs of “Lisbon,” whose piano-ish guitar and pounding drums may seem reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, represent what has long been the predecessor’s template.
While Vampire Weekend songs are stuffed with east coast high-culture (brownstones, Luis Vuitton, punctuation), Walkmen tracks have usually cried out in anger at intimates, at the impossibility of having things work out easily and at being torn away from a good time. Their lyrics have been punctuated by unanswered question marks and angry exclamation points.
“Lisbon,” however, is less angry and more at peace. In “Stranded,” the drums and guitar ease into a coda of horns which, like music heard a ways up a beach, bring the song to a close. Their songs have slowed from their old punk pace.
In “While I Shovel Snow,” Hamilton Leithauser admits he “fudged the numbers,” but then explains that “Half of my life, I’ve been watching / Half of my life I’ve been waking up.” The track, and the album as a whole, sounds like Leithauser waking up. In “Woe Is Me,” he sings over an upbeat, Dick-Dale-ish backdrop of surf guitars, “There’s a girl you should know / she was mine not so long ago.”
The capital of Portugal may seem like a strange reference point for the pacifying of an angry rock band. Lisbon is a port city of five-hundred thousand with a history of conflict.
Maybe The Walkmen are carrying their mixed feelings toward the world and settling into a villa of acceptance. “Lisbon,” the last song of the record, sounds like a taxi ride through the melancholic city of white walls and red roofs, castles and cathedrals, bridges and barrios, ships and seagulls.
“Lisbon” is a departure from their early albums that were full of shorter songs and angrier lyrics. It is a move toward some happiness.
Does the power of rock music lie in its ability to mature? That’s up for questioning. My favorite Walkmen song is “Revenge Wears No Wristwatch,” in which Leithauser gets frustrated with his lover: “I’ve heard it all before / I’ve had it up to here.”
But perhaps, after all this time of having it up to here, Leithauser and his bandmates have realized that they’re not going to blow their tops after all. Maybe they already have, and “Lisbon” is what happens after the anger’s been vented.