Some bands take their time between albums and spend countless hours on crafting each sonic detail. They think deeply about how each song fits within the general themes of the album. Perhaps they also ponder how their latest release will fit within their oeuvre overall, and what kind of comment they could possibly be making on their genre or their industry as a whole. Then there’s The Men, who see that it’s a new year once again, so that means it’s time to put out another album.
The underground punk roots of The Men still shine through in their sound as well as their prolific pace, and they have managed to keep that spirit alive even as their sound has evolved. The days of the pure noise and cacophony of Leave Home are closer to becoming a distant memory, but The Men still believe in no-bullshit rock, even when they’re clearly bullshitting you (as seen in the lyrics to the opener “Dark Waltz” (which isn’t even a waltz): “My mom gave me this guitar in 1974, and it’s true”–a timeline that paints the band as being about a decade older than reality). Over the course of the album, the band continues to play whatever strikes their interest, whether it be some Americana-influenced 80’s boogie, complete with backing horns (“Another Night”) or a winsome country-tinged ballad (“Settle Me Down”–a song that will probably make it the second year in a row that The Men will have released my favorite country song). The standout track is “Different Days”, which manages the neat trick of morphing the keyboard line of “Walk of Life” into the hook of a blistering punk blast.
Everything about Tomorrow’s Hits gives the listener the feeling that they’re hearing a bar band playing a rundown of the Most Played Songs of that dive’s particular jukebox, from the title itself to the neon light cover art. The Men even look to their own recent material for inspiration, re-working the riff of “Half Angel Half Light” from last year’s New Moon into “Going Down”, exchanging the lo-fi swing of the former for more hard-charging straight-ahead rock. Some older fans of the band will complain that they’ve softened or mellowed out since the Leave Home era, but as someone who was first introduced to The Men with the stellar Open Your Heart, I have no problem with the shifts in style within and between albums. It’s not an issue that they’ve traded in Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth influences for Crazy Horse and Tom Petty, because no matter what it’s still clear that the band is having fun.
There’s a looseness and a joy to the music, even when they’re pushing the tempo or stepping back for some reflection. It’s just a whole lot of…fun. And while the title Tomorrow’s Hits is at most wishful thinking and most likely meant to be ironic and tongue-in-cheek, I would be glad if its prediction held true and I was getting a nice blast of “Pearly Gates” as I flip on my radio and hit the highway.
That said, what I find most amusing about The Men is the way that they’ve become the focus of a bunch of ridiculous thinkpieces for more than a few rock critics. These listen to an album of straightforward rock, and then look at a no-nonsense band, and then think that they need to ask “What does it all mean?” This is a band that has no social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), doesn’t print out a lyric sheet, have a name that’s practically useless to Google, and plays whatever style fits their mood at the moment–all this points to a group that really doesn’t give a fuck about “their place in the industry”. You read reviews like this and you just have to wonder who the author is trying to impress with this pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Just grab a beer and have some fun as the band decides to have some fun.