The Walkmen
Pussy Cats Starring The Walkmen
2006
C



the original Pussy Cats was a Brandy Alexander Project. John Lennon had split from Yoko for several months in 1974, debauching his ‘lost weekend’ away in Los Angeles with Nilsson, Ringo, Keith Moon, and others, when he and Nilsson decided to head into a studio and record an album. The result was Pussy Cats, a homely, drink-rough collection of covers and originals with Lennon serving as producer and Nilsson vocalist. In the middle of the sessions, Nilsson ruptured his vocal cord but kept it from Lennon, lending the songs a weary, road-beat feeling well-suited to the record’s sloppy birth. More a cult classic than the real thing, the album stands now as a postcard from dizzying months most involved in probably couldn’t recount by year’s end; an unusual testament to friendships bound by rousing in dead night, to remind them just how much occurs in lost times.

Considering its creation, Pussy Cats seems like a strange choice for a full-album cover. It’s a snapshot record, impossible to locate with a shift in time or location since its charms are all about context. But for the Walkmen, it’s also a band-favorite, so after finishing the final mix of A Hundred Miles Off last January, the band decided to rerecord Pussy Cats song for song. For better or worse then, the Walkmen have adeptly recreated the original’s crude bonhomie. Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” is still Sunday morning slow, with its lazy string section and sleepy rhythms, while the Nilsson original “Don’t Forget Me” retains its mournful piano, sounding here like it was recorded in a high-ceilinged room without furniture, as Leithauser’s voice leaps about the notes with only the barest attention to the piano’s rhythms. (Throughout, Leithauser’s own Dylan-drawl proves the perfect mirror for the husky, severed nuances of Nilsson’s voice in 1974; in fact, listening to him try to reflect the effete Nilsson here provides much of the album’s intrigue.)

In places though, the Walkmen fail to live up to the original’s wry hyperbole. “All My Life” lacks its predecessor’s recklessness—an element that served as almost a summation of the ‘lost weekend,’ and certainly a focal point for the sessions—as instrumentally, the Walkmen struggle to house the same mayhem and gassy irreverence. “Old Forgotten Soldier,” where Nilsson’s voice was heard dissolving at the seams, is cleaner, more of a breezy barstool waltz than a busted lament, but “Save the Last Dance” finds the Walkmen nailing the cut’s woozy chorus and florid string flourishes. The covers of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Rock Around the Clock” and the inane children’s song “Loop de Loop,” filler tracks in ‘74, serve their intended purpose here, even if the Walkmen show a great ear for mimicry; “Black Sails”’ candle-burnt wail is more tenuous in the Walkmen’s care, but without Leithauser in the lead, the cut flails (for just that reason, I would have loved to hear Leithauser and friends hunched over the bar for a recreation of “The Flying Saucer Song,” included as a bonus cut on the reissue of Pussy Cats).

Ultimately—pushing aside pesky questions as to whether or not the album should have seen release or should simply have been hidden in the tour bus as a Saturday lark—the Walkmen’s version is difficult to recommend to anyone unfamiliar with Nilsson and Lennon’s album. Without the primary context, the record’s a sloppy seconds account of sorts, a paper-foil reflection of an already surreal timeframe. For those of you still pulled back now and again into the original’s waning light, the Walkmen present a record of pleasant distraction by comparison. But their compelling attention to detail notwithstanding, the lack of storyline and regressive creativity behind this new version makes it sound more sleep-deprived than even Lennon and co. in the woozy wakelessness of ’74.



Reviewed by: Derek Miller
Reviewed on: 2006-10-25
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