As if we needed more reasons to disregard Rolling Stone, the Walkmen’s stellar Bows and Arrows gets half as many stars as the last two or three Blink 182 albums. Isn’t anyone there embarrassed? They didn’t even get their info right, grouping a band that’s made up of members of the noteworthy (if only for their major label implosion) indie band Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Recoys in with the rock revival. To get a job at Rolling Stone these days you have to send in a list of your Top Five Britney Spears non-singles.
After the dust clears, no one will remember Rolling Stone reviews (or irrelevant comparisons to U2), but they will remember the music. And this is damn good music. Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone, the quintet’s 2002 debut, is a beautiful record, filled with spacious melodies and strong percussion. The Saturn car company was attracted to the I’m-not-like-the-other-songs grooving of “We’ve Been Had,” and can you blame them? It’s an excellent song; if I had a car company I would probably put it in a commercial with children on playgrounds too.
Bows + Arrows is not a huge step in another direction, a la Liars’ They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. But it builds upon the first record’s strengths and improves its weaknesses. The singles are here and they are rocking. “The Rat” has a thumping drumbeat to go with its refrain: “When I used to go out I’d know everyone I saw / Now I go out alone if I go out at all.” The song’s aggression is only approached by “Little House of Savages” a few tracks later, while the rest of the album plays by the Walkmen’s signature sound of vibrating guitars, shimmering drums and the occasional tinny piano.
But these compositions, particularly opener “What’s in it for Me?” and “New Year’s Eve,” are noticeably superior to their first outing — melodic where their previous songs could slip into monotony, bittersweet and atmospheric instead of mild and forgettable. Bows + Arrows is solid all the way through, with each second purposeful and important. While it would be easy to criticize an album for not varying enough from a previous, already successful album, why not praise it for taking what made them successful and doing it better?