The Walkmen are taking no prisoners. Family, friends, and loved ones aren’t safe from the waves of guitar and vicious vocals that resonate throughout Bows and Arrows. The band is following up 2002’s Everyone that Pretended to Like Me is Gone with an album showing they are ready to do battle, but didn’t bring enough artillery to win the war.
“What’s In It For Me” is a return to the shimmering guitar that marked the debut and lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s gravelly voice complains, “You never come over anymore,” before giving way to an avalanche of guitar. The song is little more than an extended intro that plods just a bit too long. They would have been wise to either cut it in half or do without it all together—if for no other reason than to get to the blitzkrieg that is “The Rat.” This is a song that can only be described as being behind the wheel of a car going downhill with no breaks. You stand no chance of surviving. The guitar work is relentless, and the drum strikes each time you think you might get a chance to catch your breath. It’s not until Leithauser sings, “When I used to go out I knew everyone I saw. Now I go out alone if I go out at all,” that you feel just how close to putting his fist through a wall he is.
“No Christmas While I’m Talking” completely halts the momentum and is a retread of the opening track. Certainly it’s hard to follow a song as brilliant as “The Rat,” but there are really no excuses for placing such a slow tempo song next. It’s not until “My Old Man” that the momentum has built again, and the band has their weapons drawn once more. Playing like the soundtrack to a family argument, the guitar and drum bring to mind the members of the family storming off to their rooms and slamming the doors: “I refuse to talk this out. ‘Cause I don’t need this now.”
“Thinking of a Dream I Had” delivers a driving drum that fails to quit even as the guitar takes brief breaks from another high-speed chord. The song balances an aggressive guitar with a sweet organ. “Bows and Arrows” is a mid tempo song that perfectly captures the feel of the album with the lyric, “Your head is bent out of shape, but your feet are on the ground,” capturing that uneasy feeling of coming out of a relationship positive you are a better person, but not entirely sure of how to go about picking up the pieces. And throughout that shimmering guitar is kicked up one more level denying you the ability to hang your head.
Bows and Arrows has moments of undeniable brilliance with songs that take you to the edge, but talk you out of jumping at the final moment. It’s just unfortunate that the Walkmen allow your heartbeat to slow on such a consistent basis.