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Bull's-Eye

 

The Walkmen: Bows and Arrows

Record Collection, 2004

Rating: 4.5

 

 

Posted: February 16, 2004

By Laurence Station

Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, the Walkmen's 2002 debut, lacked passion and focus. The group's new Bows and Arrows remedies such deficiencies -- and how. The New York-based rock quintet takes its heavily fuzzed, deliberately paced sound and marries it to wasted tales of urban romanticism like a blizzard swirling around a broken-hearted, car-hopping Heathcliff. Simply put, the Walkmen have a pulse this time around, a huge leap from the band's initial stab at documenting the lives of Gotham hipsters trying to find success and happiness in the Big Apple.

Bows and Arrows' second cut, "The Rat," contains more energy than Everyone possessed in its entirety. Having mastered the disaffected, ultra-blasť approach, vocalist Hamilton Leithauser proves he can plead with the best of them. "Can't you hear me? / I'm beating on the wall / Can't you see me? / I'm pounding on your door," he screams to an old acquaintance who's clearly moved on. It's an emotionally committed moment, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The Walkmen have inverted Everyone's cool insider angle, documenting the fall of a scenester, someone expelled from the downtown clique, like the new boy in town who was once the flavor of the month and has now lost his appeal.

The intriguingly Dylan-esque "138th Street" explores the notion of failing to move on after the party's over, when others have grown up and gone on to establish careers and start families: "Everyone will see you've missed your chance / Everyone will say you've lost your edge." The restless "Little House of Savages" finds Leithauser complaining "Somebody's waiting for me at home," and not wanting the night to end. "Hang On, Siobhan" examines the opposite problem: "I'll be back tomorrow, that is if you're here." "New Year's Eve" borrows the delicate piano from the Walkmen's recent Saturn commercial hit "We've Been Had" and parlays it into jaded background noise, akin to something one might hear in a brothel ("I'll take your hand and another one night stand.").

Musically, the Walkmen are not only tighter, but also more purposeful. The insistent guitar buzz and pulsating drum-work on "Thinking of a Dream I Had" perfectly complements the lyrics ("I'm waiting on a subway line / I'm waiting for a train to arrive"). "Rat" closes with a manic, percussive pounding, reminiscent of someone beating against a door. Obvious touches, to be sure, but it's nice to hear a band concentrating on such details, tightly integrating sound and content.

Bows and Arrows exposes the shallowness of cool associated with seeing and being seen within the impossible-to-pin-down downtown crowd. The closing title track deftly reveals how addictive city nightlife can be: "The morning sun has come and gone / Get up, get out, and move on." The band has managed to not only mature (lyrically and musically), but to expend more energy in the process. It's an odd but welcome dichotomy. The Walkmen have definitely hit their stride.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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