The Men - Tomorrow’s Hits

Brooklyn’s The Men keep the rock rolling on their fifth record, a salute to yesterday’s hits.

Additional Info

7.7

ALBUM: Tomorrow’s Hits

ARTIST: The Men

2014

Rock

The Men seem like regular dudes. Their simple moniker makes sense when you listen to the music they make—we’re far from the haughty pretense of other rock revival bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Their name reflects a simple set of guys playing fairly straightforward rock music. They’re good at it. And they do it a lot. Since their first record in 2010, they’ve released at least one full-length per year, each nestled in its own unique niche within the rock ‘n’ roll canon. Immaculada was abrasive and punkish; 2011’s Leave Home found swaths of noise still swelling most of the catchy riffs into esoteric oblivion. The Men’s first two albums showed the band with large backpatches of their formative influences on their leather jackets—The Replacements, Fugazi, mostly every band that Michael Azzerad profiled in Our Band Could Be Your Life. There was an undeniable vigor to those records that may have dissipated a bit with their most recent output, but what energy they’ve surrendered has been replaced with a more mature songwriting sensibility. Heaps of it, actually. In the short time between their second and third records, they might have smoked a bunch of pot and rediscovered their fathers’ LP collections, or maybe they felt their first hangovers that didn’t dissipate by noon the next day—whatever it was, The Men channeled all their growing pains on 2012’s Open Your Heart. It remains their most cohesive and logistically structured offering, while still mining enough solvent psychedelia and punk tinged rock to keep Iggy Pop hard. The band kept the party going on 2013’s New Moon, but to uneven and slightly diminished returns. Tomorrow’s Hits is a bit of a departure, in that the amplifier volume knobs only rarely go to eleven, but The Men are a band aware that, after a certain point, staying at eleven will land you as the opening act of a puppet show.

For anyone following, the album makes perfect sense within the band’s trajectory; 2013’s EP Campfire Songs (comprised of stripped down versions of previous songs played around a campfire) telegraphed the move into this quieter terrain of yesteryear. Opening track “Dark Waltz” is a mid-tempo rocker with a honky-tonk piano that grounds the song in a boozy, jocular realm; it’s not quite last call, but it’s late for being out on a weeknight. Vocalist/guitarist Nick Chiericozzi sings about a gunslinger in 1974—a year in which he wasn’t yet born—and the music directly emulates the freewheelin’ vibe of the age (the chorus harmonies distinctly recall George Harrison’s 1970 exultant cut “My Sweet Lord”). The song takes the budding curiosity shown on Open Your Heart’s country-sprinkled “Candy” and floors their Caddy straight into Nashville with the top down. The jangly piano lick of “Sleepless” borders on sappy, but The Men’s acute ear for retro melody livens the song through the supporting accoutrements: a gentle lap steel guitar accompaniment, and a warm, doleful harmonica coda straight from the Book of Young. It’s not the first time The Men have jumbled folk ingredients into their rackety brew, but it’s the most suited the meshing has sounded so far. In fact, it’s these individual flourishes that might be The Men’s greatest strength on Tomorrow’s Hits. Because there’s not a singular front man, and all of them take turns cranking on their respective instruments, The Men are truly a collaborative act greater than the sum of its parts. They’re a band in a sense of the word that is often overlooked these days. The members always play together instead of at one another, a tipping point that has befallen many of the classic artists being channeled on Tomorrow’s Hits.

The album may lack the cacophony of the band’s early material, (“Settle Me Down” is particularly a folk-rock snoozer), but there are a few barnburners here. “Pearly Gates” is over six minutes of blistering rock music, with an opening section that sounds like three separate guitars playing three different Chuck Berry songs at once. The song is one of the finest of the band’s career, and it takes a nightmare trip through some of rock’s paramount landscapes: Electric Dylan’s pissed and wide-eyed drawl, frantic horns scorching down E Street, Little Richard’s tack piano coming from the seediest bar in town, and banshee wailing rivaling the primal screaming of Lennon’s “Mother.” For all that’s been said of The Men maturing, this track hangs out in rock ‘n roll’s skeevy gutters way past curfew. It’s what happens after you trip in the Fun House.

Though Tomorrow’s Hits is The Men album in which it’s easiest to trace each song back to its particular rock forefather, the record displays the band on the precipice of the next step—one that will (hopefully) be wholly their own. “Different Days” is riotous, melodic, and fun, but feels a bit like a retread instead of a forward surge. They’re just not quite there yet; Tomorrow’s Hits still cribs a bit too hard from the greats, right down to its Big Star album artwork. But because its songs are contemporarily resonant, respectful to the elders, and still fun, that’s okay. For now.

"I hate bein' young."

1. Dark Waltz
The mid-tempo track begins with loud cymbals and a drunken sounding drum fill. The guitars are only mildly distorted (something that tells us what’s to come) and the vocals are louder than they usually are in a Men song. The pre-chorus provides a catchy hook through a key change, and the chorus is backed up by harmonies that owe a debt to “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison. “What’s a man to do?” Nick Chiericozzi sings, and sounds like an old-timey outlaw singer a la Billy Joe Shaver. This is hyper-“Candy”. The song’s story of a miscreant musician/drug dealer takes flight in the second verse, and provides an engaging narrative. That’s nearly the first time in a Men song where the lyrics outshine what’s going on behind them. This is a band growing in leaps.8.0
2. Get What You Give
It doesn’t sound like the New Radicals song (thankfully), but the intro melody is close to The Beat’s “Save It For Later”. The vocals are mellow, and there’s an aura of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” floating around it all too, especially with the handclaps that punctuate the second verse. The song is very melodic and subdued for a Men track, but the riffs are competent and foot tapping. If the guitars were a tad crunchier, it wouldn’t feel like such a peculiar track, as The Men have created melodies as tight and poppy as this before, but they’ve usually been drenched with distortion or overdrive or masked with the lo-fi production. The choice for the band to record in a high-end studio (unlike their previous records) becomes clear here. The guitar solo is straight from your classic rock radio station: This is your parents’ The Men. 7.0
3. Another Night
A piano twirl ushers in a… horn section!? Comparisons to the E Street Band are inevitable, because the melody is straight from The Boss’ forgotten basement. That’s not a bad thing, as it gives an air of extravagance to the song, something that I’ve never thought about another Men song before. They’re trying it out, and it works because it’s fucking fun. It seems like the band is thrilled to have the opportunity to rock it like they do on this one, and it’s easy to picture the members smiling to one another when they try to pull this song off live. The chorus implores, "We gotta just keep on trying/ It’ll be all right/ We gotta just keep on trying for another night” and the shout seems very emblematic for the band as a whole: They’ve never stopped moving, like nice-guy sharks of the music world, and it’s paid off for them so far, as the Brooklyn band gains more and more attention with each release. Rightfully so when you write spanning songs as good as this.8.2
4. Different Days
The track begins with various studio grunts and yells over driving bass notes. It’s a way to remember that The Men don’t take themselves too seriously, as that chatter is usually edited out from studio releases. It mimics the high energy and fun of their live show, which is a good thing to be reminded of. The drums come in tight and fast, and they sound great, again due to the highest production the band has allowed for one of their records. The guitar lines run up and down the neck while a joyous organ follows the notes. This (along with “Pearly Gates”) is another instance of the band firing on all cylinders. The song is catchy, energetic, and most importantly, signature sounding. There’s no doubt that you’re listing to The Men here, not pieces of bands that have influenced them. 8.5
5. Sleepless
A lot more is going on in this song than you may first notice. The vocal line is reminiscent of “I Saw Her Face” from New Moon. Being so prolific, it’s okay if The Men repeat themselves once in awhile, and at least they’ve plagiarized a good one from themselves. Beyond the vocal, the song is quite different than their others. Lap steel player Kevin Faulkner shines here in the buoyant bridge. His mewing parts add sonic dimension to an otherwise prosaic landscape, but the harmonica at the end is truly inspired. It’s takes the aura of Campfire Songs’ actual campfire songs and transposes the somber serenity into a very good way to outro a track.7.9
6. Pearly Gates
This song slays. That’s a succinct way to put it. We’re taken through six minutes of sonic landscape that doesn’t let up on its stranglehold across the United States. We start in Nashville and end drenched in blood and booze down in New Orleans. Many other artists come to mind as the song chugs ahead, from Dylan to Zeppelin and back again. A simple rage narrative—“When the sheriff finds my body/ and the whole county bloody!”—connects this song to “Dark Waltz” in that bad boy rock tradition. These are nice boys, and we know The Men are playing, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun pretending. The derangement of Iggy and the Stooges truly dominate this song, especially the later half’s repeated screeching of, “Shut up!” and, “We gotta go!” and the petulant, “Hey!” There’s a heap of adulation for the past here, and the reverence finally coalesces with the band’s current exuberance. Yesterday’s hits meet today’s jam quite perfectly.9.8
7. Settle Me Down
This is a placid, meandering song that once again recalls post-Beatles George Harrison. The song is pleasant enough, but it’s completely sapped of kinetic energy, and plays in a holding pattern that’s just not right for a band of this caliber. It doesn’t work as an exhalation after “Pearly Gates”, as the song sounds bored with itself, even. It may be part of the high past experiment, but it doesn’t work as well as the other worships happening on the rest of the album. The song has a clean 60’s guitar plucked lead, and it clashes with the lap steel part, which is actually pretty intriguing. The disparate parts take away from the merriment of the experiment, and move the song into a head-scratching (and boring) territory. It’s a miss, Men.5.9
8. Going Down
The album’s rejuvenated by a classic Men cut. The song makes you remember that there’s not much of a temporal gap between this batch of songs and the band’s last record. There’s no pomp here, no extraneous experimentation or imitation, just riffs on top of riffs. The catchy chorus lends itself to blasting on a long drive with the windows down. Even though the vocals are buried, like they were on Leave Home, the emotion cuts through. The sweat of the song seeps from the speakers. It’s a nice choice as a closing track, especially because the last impression we’re left with on Tomorrow’s Hits isn’t of Neil Young, or Nugent, or Springsteen—it’s of these five regular men giving us what they’ve got.8.1
Michael McDermit is an artist living in Oregon. He is a contributing member of the My Idea of Fun artist collective and currently teaches writing and literature at the University of Oregon.



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