Review Summary: now with 90% more antagonistically pleasant piano
I think that embedded in the recording of the jolly, piano-bar intro to “Open the Door” is the sound of a thousand pissed-off Leave Home
fans clenching their fists in frustration. The Men seem to have developed a troubled relationship to what their fans expect them to do and what they want to do. Over the course of four albums, they’ve leaned to the latter, aggressively shirking the pigeonholes they set up for themselves. In the past two years, they, like the character on the cover of an Animorphs
book, have gradually shifted from a violent, noise-rock monstrosity to a rock band of simple, almost insistently-approachable average folks, much to the chagrin of those who dug the shoegaze/hardcore hybrid they presented on their first two albums. The increasingly vocal ship-jumping since Open Your Heart
has made the act’s latter-day accessibility come off like a big-ol’ ”fuc
k you” to those who’d keep them in a hardcore box. I’ve never heard a more antagonistically pleasant steel guitar than the one that popped up towards the end of Open Your Heart
, which is an album that could be pretty accurately summed up thusly: “You liked the noise? Well, screw you, here’s ‘Country Song.’”
This spirit of artistic resistance seeps out from the album’s first comprehensible lyric, “I wonder if you’re thinking about the words I am singing when I hear the guitars playing, the tambourine ringing." New Moon
is the full album from the band that recorded Open Your Heart
’s curveball, “Candy”: a bit folksy, a little twangy, a little Joe the plumber. I don’t think anyone even screams on this record. Here’s The Men relocated from the grungy basements of Brooklyn to the dive bars of Middle America. Here, they’ve got a little wooziness to them, a boozy sway they could jam on ad infinitum if they let some of these tracks really go. A unifying strength running through The Men’s widely varied back-catalog is the act’s ability to kick out tunes straight into rock-and-roll canon, to the point where their music sounds so intuitively driven, one wonders how hard they’re really trying. New Moon
follows suit, as catchy as anything they’ve done, as self-consciously reminiscent of certain rock elders as Leave Home
and Open Your Heart
are. The argument that their new stuff isn’t aurally painful enough? I’m not buying it.
Which isn’t to say New Moon
is necessarily as good as everything The Men have done; whereas previous albums ran on the strength of several peaks, New Moon
plateaus somewhere around “chill” and only “kicks ass” occasionally. “Half Angel Half Light” and “Without a Face” provide adequate early-album propulsion as uptempo harmonica-rockers, but in comparison to Open Your Heart
’s 1-2 kick of “Turn it Around” and “Animal,” it’s clear that energy is not the driving force of New Moon
but a happy byproduct of a record spent gazing plaintively at tumbleweeds and thinkin’ ‘bout stuff. One can almost hear the soda can being kicked down the sidewalk in “High and Lonesome,” and album centerpiece “I Saw Her Face” provides The Men with their very own “take me away to that special place” ballad. Memory, fantasy, and storytelling thematically order this record; as if they’ve aged out of being able to realistically shout “I Am an Animal!”, New Moon
finds The Men putting on country hats and chewing tobacco, rustic wisdom implied.
But if there’s less to love here than there is on Open Your Heart
, an album which almost unfairly sequenced “Oscillation,” “Please Don’t Go Away” and “Open Your Heart” together, there’s only slightly less. “Electric” is the best song they’ve written to date, the kind of virtuosic rock anthem whose seeming effortlessness can only be achieved through several years of playing together, while “The Brass” and “Supermoon” strokes their still-alive-though-barely-breathing propensity for reckless noise. Like their early album killer suggests, The Men have always been a band “Without a Face.” Their refusal to play into any kind of narrative shifts the focus of their art away from them and onto their material. Put another way, when The Men take on genres, the move is not a declarative statement by the band so much as a commentary on and homage to the style. The Petty-esque everyman they’re conjuring on New Moon
is a well-done facsimile that lends itself to consistency over flash, meaning the album tends to pass without the attention-grabbing chutzpah of, say, a cough in the middle of an apocalyptic break-down. New Moon
is simply a more casual affair by The Men, a perfectly passable rock record by a band with the talent to pull that off and without the anxiety that you’ll want to pay attention. Here’s your artistic integrity; do with it what you will.