Photos of The Walkmen’s wives and small children decorate Heaven’s sleeve design. It’s no pastiche of happy snaps; it’s an exercise in branding. But why does something so normal look so strange? It’s because when The Walkmen flaunt their happy domesticity, they break rock & roll mythmaking rule #1: don’t seem traditional. Furthermore, their trademark tension has melted away. You could play Heaven while the baby sleeps.
Replacing the brash, rasping barroom ballads of yore is the lullaby-like guitar licks of ‘Line by Line’ and the 1950s croon of ‘No One Ever Sleeps’, where singer Hamilton Leithauser coaxes back the spirit of Jeff Buckley. Traditionally The Walkmen compress vintage organ and guitar into a jangling weapon of trauma, but on Heaven Leithauser’s voice is the primary heart-stirrer and he etches out the soft, sad beauty of ‘Southern Heart’ nearly unaccompanied. Our children will always hear/Romantic tales of distant years, he sings on the title track, confirming the rage that spawned 2004’s underground hit ‘The Rat’ has long mellowed into the farsighted meditations of fatherhood.