Did The Police reunion tour actually yield a new album? you wonder to yourself as you’re walking, maybe through Harvard Square, maybe passing the Redline bar where the Harvard kids kick it. Because you could swear, that music, ever-so-slightly reggae-tinged, sounds like a Police album.
Only better somehow. So it can’t be a reunion album, ’cause no one’s reunion album is that great (Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond notwithstanding). And, if you get by the bouncer who is enforcing a dress code on a Wednesday night, if you hang around and listen to all of Vampire Weekend’s eponymous debut, you’ll realize that comparing them to The Police was almost as cruel as the English dramas that Ezra Koenig sings about on “Oxford Comma”.
Please note, y’all: if I say your band sounds like The Police, I mean your band sounds like some coat-tail riding, hack bullshit. So it’s not, strictly speaking, complimentary. Check Return of the Last Gang In Town, the excellent Clash biography, and you’ll see what I mean about The Police.
So it’s good news for you and me and especially for Vampire Weekend that their album is not really as Police-y as it might sound upon a first listen. It does have some of that jangly reggae guitar sound on it, and the first three tunes (“Mansard Roof,” “Oxford Comma,” and their hit – I guess – “A-Punk”) do little to dispel the notion that these guys are like a sophisticated Dispatch picking at Bob Marley’s carcass for scraps of a revolution. But “A-Punk,” in all it’s under 3-minute glory, begins to reveal the imagination at work behind Vampire Weekend. Those are flutes you’re hearing in there, kids, and they’re arranged by someone who knows what they’re doing.
That someone is – no shit – Rostam Batmanglij. That may or may not be a stage name. I hope it isn’t. Anyway. Batmanglij, who I’ll call Batman for short, has the longest instrumental credit on the record and is solely credited for the arrangements. Where Koenig’s bored-college-kid (in “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” the narrator wants to fuck until he gets the sense that it’s all forced: “this feels so unnatural/ peter gabriel too”) lyrics might make for steeply diminishing returns in a more constrained setting, they actually fly pretty well over Batman’s delightfully intelligent instrumental arrangements. Strings, flutes, synthesizers, all float about over the tight rhythm section of Chris Baio and Christopher Tomson, making Vampire Weekend a thoroughly enjoyable listen throughout.
And, lest you get the wrong idea from the previous paragraph, Koenig is a pretty good singer, with a good sense of melody. And he means what he’s saying, which always scores points with me. Turns an all right phrase here and there (that Peter Gabriel line is a favorite, confirming both my belief that there is nothing natural about Peter Gabriel and my suspicion that it is impossible to enjoy – or even have – sex while Gabriel’s music is playing). Koenig declares with zeal on “Walcott”, the best track on the album, that “Hyannisport is a ghetto” and even slaps the clever, “Oh your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts” on the end of the only really shitty song on this record, the insufferable “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”.
As alluded to earlier, this is definitely the kind of album that will find its way into the CD players of a certain breed of frat-dick (like the first Gorillaz album, anything by Bob Marley, and Franz Ferdinand’s first one), but you can’t hate a band just ’cause you hate some of the people who listen to them. Vampire Weekend is a clever (and cleverly arranged) pop album from a talented band. It’s not long on substance, but it’s got some good beats and is actually pretty brief. So when you’re being thrown out of RedLine ’cause your sneakers are dirty, remember that half these kids will speak positively (and incorrectly) about how Vampire Weekend is a lot like The Police. They’ll go home and listen to Synchronicity (is that a Police album? I don’t care) and you can go home and listen to the worldbeat people that are probably chilling on the non-IPod mp3 players of Ezra Koenig and Batman.