It’s been 12 years since The Walkmen sawed off ‘The Rat’ from their 2004 album Bows + Arrows, but unlike so many indie bangers from that mid-2000s period, it still occurs to me to search for it in Spotify and stick it on.
‘The Rat’ is audial battery, opening with a wall of C minor guitar chords that are hastily backed by an urgent and unrelenting drum pattern; it’s these drums that most people will cite as their favourite thing about the song, and actually came first when the band wrote the thing.
According to singer Hamilton Leithause, drummer Matt Barrick just started hammering out those hi-hats one day during a jam session, and it was clear that the guitars needed to follow suit with a similarly amphetaminic feel.
“We threw some chords on it, I wrote the words in five minutes,” he claimed, and he must have been in the zone that day as the acidic lyrics stick in your memory.
From the opening ‘You’ve got a nerve…’ line, the track establishes its antagonistic tone, evoking the image of someone desperate, to a fault (and they know it), to spew bile at their ex, if only they’d open the front door.
Escalating after every ‘Can’t you hear me…’, as Leithause bleeds on the wall and pounds on the door, it feels as though he’s going to supernova with rage at any moment.
But then the breakdown comes, as he backs away from the door to lick his wounds, offering a heartbreakingly accurate summary of social life as your thirties approach:
‘When I used to go out I would know everyone that I saw
Now I go out alone if I go out at all’
When the chorus comes back in it feels defiant though, holding off the bass until the second line in a way that just makes your chest swell when it does return.
Despite simply oscillating through a standard song structure, ‘The Rat’, originally called 'Girls At Night', according to then band intern Ezra Koenig, is moreish and demands repeat plays. It's not original in style or genre, it's just a fucking great song, and remains so.
When I turn 40 and we’re all sitting around being boring and drinking wine in an apartment kept far too tidy, I’ll dig it back out and for four minutes we will remember the hydraulic cadence of youth and throw that wine around the joint.
- More about:
- The Walkmen