Hamilton Leithauser summarizes The Walkmen’s new album on “In The New Year” when he croons “my heart’s in a strange place, but that’s how it started and that’s how it ends.” As the record opens with “Dónde está la Playa” and journeys through the ups and downs to the lament of “If Only It Were True”, the time spent in and out of love since the last Walkmen record bleeds from the cracks of a riddled heart.
A journey is far from an exaggeration in relating the duration of You & Me, within an hour a life is being lived out. The Walkmen have already hinted of potential literary competence through an unfinished collectively written novel, but You & Me plays out like a book spun at 33 1/3 rpm. Whether it was intentional or not, a narrative is woven through You & Me.
Ernest Hemingway was known for his iceberg writing style, meaning the truth of his stories often lied below the surface. Leithauser’s iceberg is discovering the “you” and “me” that adventure through the record. “Me” is often drunk, toasting to the setting suns, “you’s” pretty eyes and better days when “you” was still around. “Me” is either running away or chasing dreams, exiled to an open road that never seems to lead to “you.” “You” is the one that got away, but still keeps tabs on “me.” “You” reminds “me” of all the finer things in life because “you” felt like the greatest offer life could give. Too confusing?
Our narrator is a lovelorn realist, struggling with his direction. Or, if Leithausser’s lyrics begin as a rum diary of love letters and postcards from a cabana in the Caribbean, the narrator soon takes to the road, discovering friends along the way, but always writing to that “you” out there. It begins with married women the narrator avoids when the hour is late. Seasons change, which bring the promise of a fresh start on “In The New Year” as he prematurely claims triumph in knowing it’s going to be a good year. By “Red Moon” though, he misses someone so much he affirms his admittance with “I do,” an interesting lyric for a narrator tempted by women in rings. He has minor victories in “Canadian Girl” and “The Blue Route,” but You & Me closes with the recognition of a love lost, “if only it were true, I’d say I do.”
Below the iceberg is the narrator’s decision to choose dream chasing instead of settling into love. But it hardly takes long for the euphoria to wear off and remember that disenchanted feeling, as he bewails on “Seven Years of Holidays (For Stretch), “I hope we find our peace someday, until then these wild nights are no fun, my old friend.”
“Red Moon” is the first slow song marking a shift as life towards something emotionally tenable, all the way through the fleeting enjoyment of “Canadian Girl,” which features a piano that sounds as though it’s being played while submerged in a vat of ale. But as much as the narrator wants “you” to believe in a renewed vigor for life, the narrator frequently slips up with letting on that “I’ll be drunk before too long, and I’ll keep up in case I can talk.”
As much as I want to continue critiquing the lyrics of You & Me to exhaustion, I will close with this “Postcards From Tiny Islands” lyric: “This really don’t say it all / There’s too much to enclose / These postcards from tiny islands / Mean more than you know.”
That’s the pleasure in casually enjoying or obsessively dissecting You & Me, whether you take it as a postcard or a novel, the enrichment in having a connection to its songs remains rewarding.