Since the Walkmen were so inclined, and perhaps self-aggrandizing, as to cover an album in its entirety, they were at least wise enough to choose one that would capitalize on their unique ability to portray the mood of a drunken stupor. The original Pussy Cats album, recorded over a raucous period during John Lennon’s “lost weekend” phase with producer Harry Nilsson’s burst vocal pipes, is an obvious precursor to the stumbling and howling of the Walkmen’s own material. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser has the acute faculty of tossing his vocals messily about and somehow making them fall at the very instant before they break tempo, entirely appropriate for a slightly chaotic, slightly quirky, definitely inebriated mixture of Lennon and Nilsson.
While the band-album match seems all good and fine, the result is left somewhere between the “sound-for-sound cover” that negates its own purpose and the “innovative cover” that recasts an oldie to be cherished by a new generation. Songs like “Black Sails” are the latter, maybe because they are executed well enough that they could sneak into the Walkmen’s own A Hundred Miles Off, despite the fact that it’s not Leithauser’s vocals, but those of Mazarin frontman Quentin Stoltzfus. Though songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” are great reproductions, perhaps they could have used more of the rowdy, stumbling piano and teeter-totter vocals that make the Walkmen the Walkmen. In their defense, it is difficult and superfluous to innovate on innovation, and taking too many liberties with a gem like Pussy Cats would not have fared well for a band already known for their ego.
Saturday Night Rating: 3.5/5 (Record Collection: 2006)