Review Summary: Eclectic and Wildly Enjoyable
Arguably the only downside to Man Man's signing with Anti- records late last year is the thought of their being pigeonholed as a "Tom Waits band." Inside the industry, particularly among the adjective-crazed record review squads, comparisons to Waits and other aging eccentrics seem inevitable, wearing their welcome only when the inevitable Nick Cave connections start flying.
Well, the band has a few years to go before they'll be getting AARP mailings, they've been working for years rather than decades and their second album is as decidedly strange, wonderful and enchanting as anything that Waits has released in the last decade. It's not a "Rain Dogs", but it just might be an "Alice."
But to compare Man Man to. . . well, anything else, would be to overlook their unique sound and thoughtful song construction. "Six Demon Bag" is a cavalcade of sound, to be sure, chock full of demented Cabaret-core, jolly blasts of noise from what must be a dozen instruments, and equal parts playfulness and sadness. Sure, Man Man unleashes one of the best, most melodic tearjerkers in recent memory with "Van Helsing Boombox", but their introspection always stands near the heart of chaos - the band maintains a careful madness, epitomized in the just-over-one-minute shrieker "Young Einstein On the Beach", which is so schizzed out it sounds like an exorcism, and a catchy one at that.
Man Man has an ear for good stories - more like character pieces, actually - which infuses stompers like the enchanting "Engwish Bwudd", which has possibly the funniest intro to a "serious" song that I have ever heard.
It's tough to tell when Man Man is joking, and we like it that way. You don't find a band like this very often - a five-piece band that sounds like a fifteen-piece band, filling every song with dual vocals, falsetto shrieks, and great songs - one that experiments on their own terms and winds up releasing something completely listenable. Some may find this music repellent, but who cares?
(RETURN OF THE) TRACK-BY-TRACK
A novel track with a slow buildup, "Feathers" sets the mood of the album perfectly, with simple piano accompaniment and minimal bells and whistles. It's a tightly-constructed track, and one that sets the stage well for the madness to follow.
This track's opening, an incomprehensibly hilarious riff on British slang, introduces us to the Man Man that we'll see for most of the rest of the album. Built around a classic blues riff (arguably THE classic blues riff), this track's "Fee Fi Fo Fum" chorus and great storytelling help to make this track a centerpiece of the album. The lead singer's eccentric post-verse additions to the tracks make this track a showstopper.
The "Oom Pa Pa" vocal percussion and strange accordion riff throughout this song lends it its madness. This song has a fantastic chorus, and an even more interesting breakdown, with its drunken-Dick Dale solo leading into a complete dissonant collapse broken at the perfect time.
Young Einstein on the Beach
"Young Einstein on the Beach" is arguably the
track that makes the record what it is, basically a one-minute fall into madness, replete with otherworldly voices and tribal chanting. This one minute adds to the album immensely, displaying the band's versatility and helping you to enjoy the slower songs to follow. Again, it's basically a one-minute exorcism.
This track is more of a classically-oriented piece, with a good half-dozen instruments working together, creating a soundscape without overshadowing each other. The track feels longer than it is because of its slower speed, but it's wonderful nonetheless. Perhaps not as awe-inspiring as the first four tracks, but just as well-constructed.
Black Mission Goggles
This track's a real howler, and really showcases the band's ability to work together as a cohesive team. A short organ riff and rickety drums ground the song. The interlude is perfect and introduces a [i]banjo[/b], of all things. The short ballad after the track is a more dreamy affair, wisely thrown in after a song as it wouldn't really as a separate track.
About as weird and incomprehensible as the title suggests, this one runs like a twisted pirate chanty, exploding as it concludes.
Push the Eagle's Stomach
This song shares the madness of earlier tracks, without some of the tight construction that grounds the rest of the album. The piggy vocals won't win many fans, but the song's ferocity should win you over before you feel like reaching for that skip button. It's strange that my least favorite track has one of the best moments of the album - the breakdown around the 2:15 mark - and gets even better until the end.
This song marries some of the background madness of Man Man with their slower, introspective side. The lyrics are fantastic, and the dissonant, menacing chorus is perfect. By the way, don't follow Honus's advice in the interlude.
Van Helsing Boombox
In addition to having the best title, "Van Helsing Boombox" is probably the best song on the album. Everything just comes together perfectly - the lyrics are perfect, the accompaniment consistent, and the tone mournful and resonant. It's a bawler in its own right with a strong human element. Remember when I said earlier that "Young Einstein on the Beach" makes the record? This track is the pin in the other corner of the map, a beast of a different color but no less compelling:
"Only time will tell if I'll allow
the scenery around to eat me alive
I want to sleep for weeks like a dog at her feet
even though I know it won't work out in the long run"
Tunneling Through the Guy
An odd, meandering track. I'm still not sure what to make of this one, but it's got a great instrumental opening, followed by a blast of cartoonish noise that could have been inherited from Mr. Bungle. This song might be the darkest on the album, consistently atmospheric and ominous.
A throwaway one-second track.
Another great screaming ballad that sounds like it has an entire big band behind it. I don't really want to spoil this one, but the 60s throwback at the end is perfect. Man Man ends this awesome album on a classy note.