Until the strokes came along, it was Jonathan Fire*Eater who had the dubious distinction of being the most over-hyped band in New York. But when the Fire*Eater's highly touted DreamWorks debut, Wolf Songs For Lambs, flopped in spectacular seven-figure fashion, the next-big-things ate*it. That's not the end of the story, though. After ditching vocalist Stewart Lupton, the surviving members -- guitarist Paul Maroon, drummer Matt Barrick and keyboardist Walter Martin -- regrouped as the Walkmen. They brought in DC high school pal Hamilton Leithauser of the Recoys to sing, who naturally called up his bandmate Peter Bauer to play bass. Easy.
The minute the Walkmen emerged from the renovated Harlem industrial space they call Marcata Recording, all the New York critics lined up to genuflect like it was the second coming of Casablancas -- although the oft-repeated comparisons to U2 could hardly be taken as complimentary.
Sure, Leithauser has a tendency to bellow on the Walkmen's Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone (StarTime International), but then, you would, too, if you had to deal with tourists all day at the Museum of Modern Art.
The surprising thing is that, apart from the lo-fi analog recording aesthetic, the Walkmen aren't trying to bring back Jonathan Fire*Eater.
Instead of boisterous rock 'n' roll, they prefer the dark tension of later Joy Division, with only brief blurts of Wire-like jangle from the shadows. It's about as far from the carnival keyboard diddle as Martin could get, short of going back to playing ska.
"I was listening to Joy Division, Bruce Springsteen and a lot of Royal Trux around the time of the recording," explains Leithauser from New York. "But really, we just wanted to sound different from Jonathan Fire*Eater.
"Even in our bad reviews no one ever says we sound like Jonathan Fire*Eater, and we're really happy about that."
If they've had unfavourable press, it hasn't stopped major-label A&R types from cozying up to the Walkmen, who are seen as the snappy-dressing New York quintet most likely to be the next Strokes.
Evidently, they have no problem with the idea of leaving behind their indie rock lifestyles and taking a second crack at the big time.
"We're in negotiations with a label right now. In fact, there's a deal on the table and we're meeting with them tonight about it.
"All we want is complete creative control and to have enough money to do this full time. But you know how it is -- they talk a good talk, but I really don't think they'd give us the freedom they're promising. We'll see."firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WALKMEN opening for the Fucking Champs at Rancho Relaxo (300 College), Saturday (June 15). $12. 416-920-0366.