Hamilton Leithauser review – only fully connects when the emotions boil over

Bush Hall, London
The ex-Walkmen frontman has equipped himself with a Vegas suit and the 'best strings money can buy' for a suave solo outing

In terms of baffling descriptions of break-ups, the "extreme hiatus" that the Walkmen announced last November is up there with the average "conscious uncoupling". How does one hiatus to the max? Induce a full-band coma? You certainly don't carry on playing any of the songs, if frontman Hamilton Leithauser's solo London debut is anything to go by. Instead, accompanied by "the best string section a lot of money can buy", a backing band and sullen co-singer, and decked out in an old Vegas suit, he showcases his first solo album Black Hours in full, exuding such suave elegance he could have stepped straight out of this classical venue's ceiling-high mirrors.

Leithauser's rich, impassioned croon was what gave the Walkmen their sophisticated lounge twist, and he mines this seam for his own work. Written with such indie luminaries as Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij and Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman, these are Lynchian torch songs adorned with the cavernous surf guitars that gave the Walkmen the feel of New York garage pop's own Del-Tones, and simmering with romantic turmoil. "Do you wonder why I sing these love songs when I have no love at all," he sings on ponderous cabaret opener 5am, eyes to the chandeliers, wrenching out every note with a profound bitterness. If, as he's claimed, he's out to emulate Sinatra, he's playing at ol' green eyes.

But he only fully connects when those emotions boil over. Like when he bawls a lover's name over the exuberant carnival charge of Alexandra, or when the desolate pier-end guitars of its counterpoint, I'll Never Love Again, are assaulted with bursts of desperate drumming like the smack of sudden heartbreak. For the most part, he aims for a cinematic wistfulness, alone at the double feature, so the likes of I Retired, Self-Pity and the tribute to his hometown, St Mary's County, waft by with little impact, all plaintive piano, lacklustre shooby-doo-wops and hands-in-pockets crooning, the strings buried and innefectual. It's pleasant, even occasionally touching, but there's nothing extreme about this hiatus.

Contributor

Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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