There are very few groups I’d like to be a part of, but I would like Brooklyn five-piece The Men to expand to six members to allow me to join for a bit. They sound like most of the things I love about music: post-hardcore punk to start, then classic Crazy Horse and country rockin’ later in the their fairly-short-to-date career so far and now they sound like a classic rock and roll band – what’s not love?
The band aren’t quite the conflicted rock and roll band that gave us the rollicking Open Your Heart followed by the more classicist New Moon albums either; once upon a time Mark Perro yelled “I wanna see you write a love song”, now on “Dark Waltz”, the opening track on The Men’s new album Tomorrow’s Hits, the singer and guitarist croons “I used to shy away from / sweet darlin’ calling to explain / I love you…” as the rest of the band performs an harmonica-laden woozy bar-room rock out that’s as much Tonight’s the Night as 21st century Brooklyn. They seem all about writing, recording and touring, no time for hobbies or what have ye. And if I was in a band that’s what I’d like – just doing what you love all day every day and hang whatever’s on the outside. I may sound idealistic or naïve, you can tell me I do (go ahead), but that’s what I like, and I think that’s what The Men might be like too.
The Men is one of the most prolific bands around, giving us an album a year since 2010, but they’ve always seemed like they’ve found it hard to match being in a band with being a bunch of guys approaching their 30s who all want to fall in love and have a spot of domesticity in their lives. So as the screams and confrontational outlook of Leave Home and Open Your Heart were replaced by something that while not quite being introspective (these are still MEN, yeah?) was certainly addressing life and love with an honesty you don’t often find in gentlemen leaving their twenties behind. New Moon tried to embrace that, Campfire Songs failed to some extent and here we are with Tomorrow’s Hits that borrows classic rock and chucks it back in your face with a confidence and sass that can only come from Perro and co. being happy, or at least trying to be, with their lot. It’s a tricky business, though, as these songs attest to.
It’s The Men’s best sounding record; the chime and handclaps of the Tom Petty-aping “Get What You Give” might be rock music at its simplest but it sounds terrific, pure high fidelity and gleaming with studio polish; “Another Night” is all Stones boogie and Memphis horns and although that might sound horribly clichéd it’s played with such verve that you can’t help be carried along by it, while “Sleepless” is a piano-led roll another number for the road that finds Perro singing “I got up on my feet again”, belying the efforts during the rest of the song that hint at giving up on the band, giving up on a relationship.
You might think that this is sound of The Men slipping into a comforting groove, but “Different Days” storms back to the sound of Open Your Heart with some heads-down punk rock and Perro bringing back his ragged, impassioned vocals. Better still is the six minutes of un-constituted balls-out rocking of “Pearly Gates”. You know how sometimes on Soundcloud you get those streams that look like a solid block, no jagged ups and downs, just one big bloody slab, and a rectangle of ominous noise? Well that’s “Pearly Gates”; coruscating punk guitars, wayward solos, drunken piano, feedback, stabs of Stooges sax, slurred, yelled and confused vocals: “baby I’m caught in the corner/ and I’ve painted myself in / I gotta go…..we gotta go / hey, hey heyyyyyyyaaaaaarrrgggghhhh”. You’re unlikely to hear a better pure out-and-out rock song in 2014 than this, and if you do then you’re a liar and you’re kidding yourself. Following this with the mellower, lap-steel beauty of “Settle Me Down”, suggests that there’s still more than a bit of internal conflict remaining with The Men.
So as usual, Tomorrow’s Hits finds The Men casting aside a previous incarnation to great effect. It’s also the sound of a band on a successful roll of album following album following album… more than that, though, it’s a record full of brilliant playing, solid gold songs and most importantly it feels like an honest assessment of where The Men are right now as a band and as individuals.