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The Walkmen

Pussy Cats

(Record Collection; US: 24 Oct 2006; UK: Available as import)

The idea of the Walkmen re-making Harry Nilsson and John Lennon’s 1974 work Pussy Cats is so very poetic.  A talented band, fresh off of making the emotionally powerful, sonically interesting musical achievement that was One Hundred Miles Off suddenly decides to go crazy and let loose, recreating the ultimate go crazy and let loose album.  The original Pussy Cats is steeped in mythology.  It was created during the infamous “lost weekend”, a period of several months where John Lennon was separated from Yoko Ono.  Lennon, with his good buddy Harry Nilsson, decided to make a rambling album of covers and songs they just felt like adding.  Needless to say, they were intoxicated during this whole process.


So the very notion of the Walkmen, a very serious sounding and in some ways, self-important band recreating such a musical oddity presents many interesting possibilities.  The album itself, however, fails to achieve that potential.  A band as talented as this one should be allowed to take steps in weird directions, to do something offbeat and interesting and see where it leads.  So the disappointments must be accepted sometimes.  And this, in many ways, is a disappointment.  The famous Shakespearean phrase, “sound and fury signifying nothing” is used too often, but it is appropriate here.  It’s a lot of sounds and instruments and backup vocals, yet lacks the vibrancy or magic that we’ve come to expect from the Walkmen.


The covers of tracks written by Nilsson, such as “Old Forgotten Soldier” or “Black Sails” are dreary downers and have none of the pathos that the Walkmen can evoke.  Instead they meander and flounder.  Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice strains for emotion, yet the urgency and the passion that is in a Walkmen classic such as “The Rat” is not present.  Instead of feeling like the Walkmen are putting their soul into these songs, it feels like the Walkmen are merely singing them.


That is not to say there aren’t highlights.  In some of the album’s brighter moments, you can feel why the Walkmen wanted to take on this album in the first place.  You feel their love for these songs, the passion they want to infuse them with.  You understand that this isn’t a vanity project, but a labor of love.  “Loop de Loop” shrieks with fervor and anger, and there is a liveliness there that is missing for most of the album.


The one song however, that feels distinctly like the Walkmen, is the cover of “Save the Last Dance”.  The band slows the song down, and Leithauser sings this simple little teenage love ditty with empathy and heart, and it is impossible to not hear strains of a song like “Louisiana” in it.  One of the best compliments a band can receive is that they make you feel something when you listen to their music.  The Walkmen don’t provide vapid and soothing enjoyment, but rather genuine impact and soul.  “Save the Last Dance” is one song where that impact is truly felt.


It is not fair to begrudge the Walkmen for this effort.  They took something they loved, and they wanted to show that love to the world.  When you really feel that love too, this album has some of the best highs you can get from music.  But it isn’t consistent, and there are moments that just don’t work.  There is a little bit of something here, but a whole lot of nothing.

Rating:

Tagged as: the walkmen
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