Why do people love The Men? I mean, they're not bad, but is the world of guitars so stagnant that “not bad” is now translated everywhere as “absolutely vital”?
That's what I thought when I first started getting soaked by the salivating hype over them following last year's sophomore album “Leave Home”. I went to look for a copy at the record shop I work in, and found three that'd been there for so long they'd been reduced to £3 each. I stuck it on. “This is alright”, I thought. It finished. “That was alright”, I thought. It was alright. Not in the Velvet Underground “Rock & Roll” sense. Just, you know, it was alright. A few nicely noisy bits, a few fairly forgettable songs. Alright.
I was obviously missing something, and apparently I'm still missing it now. Their new album “Open Your Heart” has had critics opening a whole six-pack of gush, falling over themselves to herald a return to rock like indie Seventh-Day Adventists, as if bands like No Age, Titus Andronicus and their ilk didn't exist. Fact is, you could go into pretty much any town in the western world and find a band like this playing in a the back room of a pub to their girlfriends and a few ageing dudes in leather jackets. The Men are no doubt better than almost all of them, but that's a bit like a stand-up comedian being better than almost all other stand-up comedians at telling mother-in-law jokes. Luckily for them, they were playing bars in Brooklyn rather than Basingstoke or Burgos.
The album doesn't start well. The enthusiastic riffing of “Turn It Around” is presumably intended to evoke the intensity of legendary iconoclasts like The New York Dolls or MC5. It doesn't. It evokes the radio-friendly rock of The Datsuns or the Foo Fighters, at points also oddly reminiscent of that other group of classic rock archive-miners White Denim, but without that band's ability to turn things upside down whenever things threaten to get boring.
Second track, “Animal”, continues with the exact same tempo and formula, but this time sounds like Status Quo if they'd come of age in contemporary South New York rather than 60s South London. Mercifully, “Country Song” then provides a much- needed bit of contrast, with its slowed-down, sun-soaked amble providing the perfect place to sit down and doze. When the tempo comes back up again for “Oscillation”, it thankfully retains the spaced-out vibe, adding some suitably weird low-pitched, low-mixed and low-key vocals at the end. It doesn't really get anywhere in its seven minutes, but it doesn't really need to.
Again, the following track, “Please Don't Go Away”, has almost the exact same pace and rhythm, but though the lyrics are simply the title being repeated umpteen times, the gut-wrenching minor chords and Wavves-esque backing vocals mean that for the first time the album scores an emotional hit as well as a decibel-raisin' one. Title track “Open Your Heart” tries to continue in the same vein, but is hampered by the fact that the opening chord progression is shamelessly stolen from “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)” by Buzzcocks. It also misguidedly puts Mark Perro's vocals way too high in the mix – the guy's voice isn't good enough to bear such scrutiny when he's not shouting.
“Candy” slows the pace down again, an easy-going, countrified number reminiscent of Ween or The Meat Puppets, which opens with the lyric, “I just quit my job, now I can stay out all night long”. It's an attitude that sums the band up in some respects – they're a band for the good times, to get wasted and fall over to. They're probably a riot live but the problem is that schtick isn't as interesting on record, and unlike, say, Fucked Up, there's no willingness to experiment that rewards the closer listener. “Cube” is a case in point. It's just a loud nothing.
The final tracks are good enough, provided you're a fan of Spiritualized and Sonic Youth, seeing as “Presence” and “Ex Dreams” sound exactly like them (I mean Christ, even the song titles read like satire). That's the problem with The Men. Being unafraid to sound like your favourite bands is dangerous if you have dodgy taste, and only slightly safer if your taste is good. The Men have good taste alright, but...
Alright. There's that word again.
Open Your Heart