For a band that’s been making music for over a decade, The Walkmen remain as hip, fresh, and vibrant as ever. Still, the title track off the band’s sixth album Heaven comes as an intriguing surprise for long-time fans.
The song is a reflection of the group’s wisdom and maturation in every aspect of the members’ lives, but especially in terms of the constantly evolving stylistic themes.
“Heaven” carries the weight of love lost, lessons learned, and life re-examined at the daunting precipice of middle age, while still managing to hold on to the jaunty spirit that keeps these rockers eternally young at heart.
The multi-layered charm of The Walkmen can be traced all the way back to the group’s formation. In 2000, five indie musicians from two pre-existing bands—Hamilton Leithauser (vocals, guitar) and Peter Bauer (bass, organ) from The Recoys and Paul Maroon (guitar, piano), Walter Martin (bass, organ), and Matt Barrick (drums) from Jonathon Fire*Eater—decided to combine their varied talents into one epic super-group.
As The Walkmen, they produced five original albums of unrelenting creativity: some of which received critical acclaim (2002’s Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, 2004’s Bows + Arrows, and 2008’s You & Me), while others faltered (2006’s A Hundred Miles Off and 2010’s Lisbon). However, if this latest single is any indication, Heaven (set for release on May 29) might be the band’s most transcendent and career-defining record yet.
The 4-minute single “Heaven” begins with a catchy drumbeat that, combined with sunny guitars and a warm bass line, carries the entire song like crashing waves against the surf. This simple but ebullient two-chord progression is soon infused with the storytelling whimsy of lead vocalist Leithauser, as he opines about the “gilded age” of dreams that comes and goes.
Then, as the melodies start to swell with youthful abandon and nostalgia, he pleads for his childhood love to stay with him forever: “Don’t leave me/you’re my best friend/all my life, you’ve always been/remember, remember/all we fight for.”
Although the group’s past hits have heavily relied on cynicism and despair (for example, “The Rat” and “We’ve Been Had”), this new song—an ode to optimism and possibly foolish young love—surprisingly works. With its buoyant orchestration and straightforward lyrics, “Heaven” fully embraces the candid vulnerability and exuberance that is at the heart of its message. Leithauser’s voice soars with tender, passionate verve, while the rest of the band adeptly keeps the rhythms tight and the reverbs glowing.
In many ways, The Walkmen have crafted the perfect summer single: a roll-the-windows-down, feel-the-wind-in-your-hair kind of anthem that brims with hope, sincerity, and radiant light.