“We Can’t Be Beat” is a confounding song, and it introduces an album that insists on being impressive without ever really impressing: A simple, nylon-string guitar underlies a country-Elvis lament. Singer Hamilton Leithauser, who has become somewhat of an iconic frontman, croons like Ricky Nelson as barbershop backup vocals chime in to support the song’s emotional payoff. Sounds nice, right?
But even though it’s the album’s most interesting moment, Leithauser can’t really croon. When he belts, rasping over crunchy, tremelo’d guitars, it’s like having gravel poured over your head (in a good way), but the song doesn’t flatter his voice. And that’s just track one. On the remainder, there are few surprises instrumentally, and Leithauser comfortably basks in a bit of a diva role throughout.
Sadly, much of The Walkmen’s idiosyncrasies disappear on this album. There’s little trace of the things that made people fall in love with the band in the first place. There’s none of the hard-driving drums and harried vigor of 2004’s “The Rat,” or the close, twinkly pianos of 2002’s Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, or the experimentation of 2010’s Lisbon, or even the woeful mariachi horns of “Stranded.” It’s a shame.
On “Heartbreaker,” Leithauser buzzes these are the good years, and it’s not the singer, it’s the song — perhaps accounting for his shiftlessness. “Song for Leigh” is maybe the best, although it climaxes with all the easiness of late Bob Dylan. Lead single “Heaven,” on the other hand, sounds like a sped-up cut off Real Estate’s album Days. At most, Heaven will go down as a minor work in an impressive discography. (Fat Possum)