Rock groups are like families and sometimes they actually are families or at least contain relatives.
Jonathan Fire Eater disbanded in '98. Having been under contract to Dreamworks, the group took what was left of their funding and built Maracata Studios in New York's Harlem district. Former Fire Eaters Walter Martin (vocals/organ), Paul Maroon (guitar) and Matt Barrick (drums) were joined by ex-Recoys Hamilton Leithauser (guitars/vocals) and Peter Bauer (bass). It's Martin and Leithauser who are cousins. All members hailed from the Washington D.C. area and played together extensively before relocating to the Big Apple.
The Walkmen made their '00 debut in New York's East Village (Joe's Pub) with an EP rolling out shortly thereafter. The group's first full-length effort "Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone" appeared in '02. Following extensive touring, the group moved to Warner Brothers Record Collection label for "Bows + Arrows." This effort earned them a cameo on the O.C.
'05 found the Walkmen venturing a little closer to home, namely Arlington, VA, to record their third album "A Hundred Miles Off" which was released in mid-06. Bauer and Martin traded musical instruments on the album (Bauer-organ and Martin-bass). The first single was "Louisiana."
Later that year, the Walkmen issued "Pussy Cats Starring The Walkmen, a track-by-track cover of Harry Nilsson's '74 album "Pussy Cats." The Nilsson effort was produced by none other than John Lennon during his "lost weekend," a period of excessive behavior following his split from Yoko Ono (they later reconciled). Nilsson who could keep up with Lennon, drink for drink and destructive act for destructive act, ruptured a vocal chord while recording the album. The effort was deemed "uneven" by critics (a generous assessment to be sure) and led Lennon and Nilsson to clean up their acts. That the Walkmen reworked this misbegotten project was interesting, to say the least.
"You & Me" hit in '08 but before its' general release the album was available, at a deeply discounted price, exclusively on the indie music website Amie Street. Proceeds were donated to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
The Walkmen recorded over two dozen songs the next year, including 13 laid down in five days. 11 of those tracks made the cut for the '10 release "Lisbon." The album was the group's highest charting album to date peaking at #27 on the Billboard 200.
To mark the 10th anniversary of their debut album ("Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone"), the Walkmen embarked on a celebratory tour featuring songs from that set - they also performed other material. Later in the year ('12), they issued their 7th album, "Heaven."
2002 Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone
2004 Bows + Arrows
2006 A Hundred Miles Off
2006 "Pussy Cats" Starring The Walkmen
2008 You & Me
Imagine a Bob Dylan impersonator fronting a Punk band. That's pretty much the Walkmen on "A Hundred Miles Off," their most cohesive and focused effort to date. "Good For You's Good For Me" and "Lost In Boston" are the set's best.
The Walkmen take an intimate yet raw, DIY tack on "You & Me." At times the set evokes a simpler, live-in-studio approach but with a heady leaning - like Radiohead in one take. "In The New Year," with its carnival embellishments, has the energy to pull it off. "On The Water," riding a bass and brushes rhythm, is so effortless that it's instantly appealing. "You & Me" also demonstrates the group's various influences. "Canadian Girl" has a mid-tempo Rockabilly feeling while the ballad closer "If Only It Were True" comes across as early Dylan doing Roy Orbison.
"Bows + Arrows" also has the Dylan influence seeping through but it's the propulsive "The Rat" and "Thinking Of A Dream I Had" that are the most memorable. "Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone," is a collection of discordant noise with little to recommend it. Why Warner Brothers was interested in the Walkmen after this record is something of a mystery.
For "Lisbon" Maroon and Leithauser create a distant echo laced guitar sound designed for atmosphere. "Angela Surf City" comes off like a Spanish tinged Dick Dale track while "Woe Is Me" is far more indicative of Surf, especially with the double-time beat. "Blue As Your Blood" takes a riff that's derivative of Don Henley's "Boys Of Summer" but more insistent. There are also a couple great ballads; "Stranded" with its Salvation Army horns and "Torch Song," which is just that, a haunting 50's style drama.
The combination of Leithauser, still with that trace of Dylan, and a jangling guitar around sharp chords, are "Heaven's" signature sound. The title track, "Love Is Luck," "Heartbreaker" and "The Love You Love" are just that and amply display the group's appealing strengths.
Give Leithauser an acoustic guitar backing and the results are nothing exceptional. However, "The Witch" with its organ/electric guitar interplay amps Leithauser's vocals for a surprisingly evocative performance.