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The Walkmen:: “A Hundred Miles Off” (Album Review)

The Walkmen already have two great albums under their belt: the cracklingly fresh – even now – 2002 debut “Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone”, and the more whimsical 2004 follow-up “Bows and Arrows”. The plinky-plank piano, fuzzy churning organ sound and understated guitar work is still unmistakably New York garage rock, and the fact that both albums have featured heavily in many “Best Album of the Year” Lists and Polls (as well as being used on The O.C.’s soundtrack a couple of times) shows that they’ve moved – slowly – into the limelight. As Oasis will testify, the “tricky 2nd album” syndrome can actually look like a walk in the park but then the 3rd album can, ultimately, knock a band’s juggernaut success.

This MAY have happened to The Walkmen too. Whilst new album “A Hundred Miles Off” is highly enjoyable, something seems missing on subsequent listens and, unfortunately, the cripplingly horrible “it’s just the same old same old” adage may apply. The sunny album-opener ‘Louisiana’ sparkles as it filters out of the stereo speakers, with Leithauser’s all-too Dylan-esque drawl of “Louisiana / Come go away with me / Drinking coffee / Under a canopy”, and the breezy brass bridge is an obvious highlight. So too is The Shins-esque ‘Good For You, Good For Me’, with its lilting guitar and talk of hazy lazy afternoons doing absolutely nothing but feeling good about it. On the other hand, the harsh and abrasive guitars and tumultuous drumming on the thunderous (for The Walkmen at any rate) shows a band at ease with being complacent in life and, to this end, brings some much needed aggression to the musical table.

The half-asleep vocal on ‘Brandy Alexander’, with its muted guitar picking and shuffling percussion bring something palpably different to the album. Whilst this album is not in any way a failure, there is something of a disappointing vibe with it as far as I can tell. It’s not on par with the crushing disappointment at how mediocre “Be Here Now” turned out to be, but it’s still not as memorable as The Walkmen’s previous offerings. Perhaps it needs a few more listens to grow on me, but it must be said that there’s nothing to rival ‘The Rat’. (Review by J. M. Ross.)