Objectively Perfect 2: The Rat
In 1977 the Voyager spacecrafts launched off into the outer reaches of space with two golden records. These shimmering audiophile wet dreams held recordings of greetings in various languages and music from around the world. Some of the songs were placed there to show off the genres of earthly music, from Bach to Chuck Berry, but another portion of the music contained in those golden grooves were supposed to represent human emotions. Most famously, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” was included to represent loneliness. I have my own ideas on what a modern Voyager record should contain, and if we’re talking emotions, “The Rat” would be my absolute pick for anger.
The seething rage of “The Rat” is surprising and terrifying for a few reasons. First of all, The Walkmen are known for tugging on the heart strings, not for stomping heads in. Compare the warmth of a song like “Heaven” to “The Rat” and you’d think the band is stricken by a case of schizophrenia. Secondly is the genre The Walkmen play in, they’re no blackened death metal band or a grindcore act, far from it. Their early days were spent in the New York post-punk revival long aside peers like The Strokes, and this is more vicious a song than any of their fellow NYC rockers ever pulled off.
“The Rat” isn’t a RPG going off; it’s a carefully shot sniper rifle, a precision strike of a violent outburst. The opening guitar is something so dark that it creates anxious fear as Hamilton Leithauser’s so-hoarse-he’s-about-to-lose-his-voice vocals are all aimed at one perpetrator. “You’ve got a nerve to be asking a favor/ You’ve got a nerve to be calling my number.” He doesn’t scream those words, instead you feel like he’s holding back just the slightest bit, which makes it scarier, like he’s two seconds from completely going off the rails. Matching Leithauser in rage is Matt Barrick’s drum work. Barrick is a criminally underrated drummer and this is his finest performance. The never ending run of 16th notes could be enough, but he madly dashes across his toms and abuses his snares in the seconds between. Combine that with Leithauser’s mad yells of “Can’t you hear me? I’m bleeding on the wall!” and the horror of it all goes up another notch. Then it all turns down, in volume at least.
The bridge is only made up of Leithauser and a scratchy guitar, but it cuts even deeper as the band lays down their complaints. “When I used to go out, I would know everyone that I saw/ Now I go out alone if I go out at all,” are the only words sung, but it’s clear from Leithauser’s tone that the happy times are a far distant memory and all he can see is darkness in his future. It all fires back up into the blood-lust filled chorus and the guitars swallow the sound with a brooding energy. It’s a song that can turn the brightest days into anger soaked hours. It becomes a visceral thrill; you might be having one of the most relaxing weeks possible, but for “The Rat”’s four minutes you’ll be bitter, angry, jaded and ready to go out and kick some teeth in.