In 1974, drinking buddies John Lennon and Harry Nilsson decided to make a record. The Nilsson-penned, Lennon-produced result was Pussy Cats, equal parts riotous sing-along and nostalgic meditation. Nillson irreparably (and secretly) damaged his vocal cords during recording, so the album acts as a chronicle of the loss of his voice's high registers.
It seems fitting, then, that the Walkmen, of all bands, chose to resurrect and re-record the collaboration earlier this year. Singer Hamilton Leithauser's brandy-soaked croon has defined his group's finest moments, and on the highlights of Pussy Cats, he takes Nillson's incidental growl to its logical conclusion. Take the dreamy incantation of the Drifters' '60s classic, "Save the Last Dance for Me." His voice soars above a piano dirge, fiercely making and breaking its own tempo. "And in whose arms you gonna be." Leithauser intones, and then croaks the title words over only the reverberations of an acoustic guitar. It makes for an arresting moment--- - one of few, sadly, on the remaining tracks.
The tossed-off charm of the original somehow gets lost in translation; but more importantly, the Walkmen lose sight of their strengths by adhering so strictly to Nilsson's original material. Without the romantic morbidity that's made the Walkmen canon irresistible, Pussy Cats can be a challenge to take seriously.