ALBUM: Tomorrow’s Hits
ARTIST: The Men
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."