It could be in Hamilton Leithauser’s jugular straining bellow, half Dylan’esque-drawl, half Shane McGowan-with-a-better-dentist slur, or it could be the insurmountable wall-of-sound his bandmates frequently create around him, but somewhere amongst it all, a doubt gnaws away at you that this isn’t going to end well.
For those who hate surprises, it doesn’t. What they really wanted to make is a Bob Dylan album. But with Bob Dylan currently doing a pretty good job of making Bob Dylan albums, there isn’t really much point.
Above and beyond that, A Hundred Miles Off is a real effort to listen to. A real effort. The constant throb of guitar and organ is one thing, but with Leithauser screaming like a banshee who’s just rubbed Deep Heat into his testicles, it’s easy to think of better things to do. Like self-immolation.
While All Hands and The Cook manages to mold the amorphous musical mass into something shapely and fittingly tragic for Leithauser to wail over, and the sad calypso strut of Brandy Alexander is what The Strokes will be like if they spend the next ten years being rejected by women in bars, these moments are thin on the ground.
Leaving the rest to be not unlike sitting on a long-haul flight: a constant drone in the background; a blurring of time which makes everything drag, and a vague feeling that you’ll be happier once it’s all over. Sure, there’s a few moments of turbulence to liven things up, and the take off (Louisiana; nice trumpets) and landing (Another One Goes By; woozy closing time lament) are quite exciting, but in the final reckoning, the food is shit, the drinks are stupidly small, and there’s someone incessantly bawling in your ear from the seat behind.
Simply put, there is no The Rat on this record. There are a number of moments which you feel could set off down the gloriously spiteful path that it trod, until they reign themselves in and just press against, rather than pushing through, the boundaries which surround them.
Which combined with that apologetic initial feeling, makes the record seem cowed. Beaten before it has started. The interesting, complicated band racked with neuroses who previously spent their time hanging out in seedy dens of iniquity spinning introspective songs laced with dark humour don’t show up, and it’s a real shame. A Hundred Miles Off? The Walkmen aren’t even traveling in the right direction.