Spin Control

August 31, 2008


Having done its version of one of the most famous “lost weekend” albums in rock history — the Walkmen recorded a track-for-track remake of Harry Nilsson and John Lennon’s 1974 album “Pussycats” in 2006 — the much-hyped indie-rock band now gives us its morning-after hangover record. And, as might be expected, it’s nowhere near as much fun.

Formed from the ashes of former emo hypes Jonathan Fire Eater and arriving amidst the New York rock renaissance of the early 2000s, the Walkmen have never risen above their status as an inferior substitute for the Strokes, though their many critical boosters beg to differ. Where the Strokes are all about propulsion and the Velvet Underground at its most intense, the Walkmen traffic in songwriterly pretensions and a sound that evokes Tom Waits jamming with the Velvets circa their hazy and somnambulant third album — not necessarily a bad idea, if well executed, but singer Hamilton Leithauser and his bandmates never rise to the challenge.

A concept album of sorts, the group’s fourth proper disc chronicles both the end of a long series of travels and the unwinding — or perhaps settling in — of a troubled but committed relationship. As studio touches such as piano, organ, exotic percussion and whistling attempt to decorate the basic and at times folkie drones, Leithauser croons about a vacation gone wrong in “Donde Esta La Playa” (“There is still sand in my suitcase/ There is still salt in my teeth”), jots off “Postcards from Tiny Islands” and, drawing on a slightly less exotic locale, yearns for a “Canadian Girl.”

Yet the soggy melodies, leaden rhythms and overwrought vocals assure that none of these songs ever take flight, and when the musicians ponder “Seven Years of Holidays,” you can’t help but agree with them: “These wild nights are no fun.”