Album Review: The Men—”New Moon”

By Adam Bernhardt

The Men have always been a band who have often threatened to let the voices that inspired them drown out their own. This has been problematic on their previous releases but it was never as prominent an issue, never allowing for pastiche to turn into parody.  2011’s Leave Home drew upon a wide range of influences but clearly drew upon the disparate sounds of the 80’s American underground, keen listeners being able to identify The Replacements, Husker Du, and even the Butthole Surfers underneath the lo-fi squall of tracks like “ Shittin’ with the Shah” and “Bataille”. This crude cut and paste act would still prove to be captivatingly euphoric, it’s brash, poorly recorded noise rock offering an antidote to the lush, pedestrian arrangements plaguing most indie rock at the time.

The-Men-New-MoonThis attitude carried over to last year’s Open Your Heart, which saw The Men expand to include more diverse sounds into their already distinct milieu, embracing drone and country among others to memorable effect.  Already however, eyebrows would be raised at the fact that The Men seem to play a game of genre dress-up, drawing on a vast grab bag of influences and playing whatever they want but never really nailing down a truly distinct sound of their own.  While moments like “Ex-Dreams” and “Candy” shone for their own distinct greatness, they existed outside of the tracks that surrounded them. Nonetheless the progress in songwriting showed promise and many (myself included) eagerly anticipated the arrival of New Moon.

Rumours abounded on their recent tour that they had shelved the material written for Open Your Heart almost entirely in favour of yet another aesthetic U-turn, instead playing material heavily reminiscent of the 70’s staples of classic rock radio.  Obviously, then, the direction of New Moon should not come as a complete surprise. What is surprising, however, is the significant drop in quality.  It would make sense that a band dedicated to reliving the spirit of the 80’s underground would embrace more quintessentially American influences – after all, The Replacements, Meat Puppets and Husker Du all injected a punk spirit into Americana after jettisoning the sonic straight jacket of hardcore. But The Men’s attempts at reliving this well-worn path come off as banal and downright hackneyed at times.

Although they have greatly expanded their arrangements instrumentally with harmonica and electric piano, the songs never evolve beyond simple regurgitations of Tom Petty, Neil Young and other classic rock staples. Tracks like “Bird Song” with its rollicking electric piano intro and slide guitars, fails to incite the same passionate response as their earlier works.  The high-energy psychedelic jam tacked onto the end of the album (“Supermoon”) doesn’t really deserve to run on for 9 minutes, it’s simplistic chords and static tempo making it a chore to listen through in it’s entirety.

The best songs The Men perform are typically the high-energy noise rock tracks that they are clearly trying to break away from on this album, and sure enough the strongest track is the lead single “Electric,” which follows the blueprint established on earlier noisier Men albums, which is telling. New Moon shows that The Men are willing to take big risks and venture into new musical territory, but overall their half-baked attempts at hard rock fall well short of the benchmark set by their already potent catalogue.

2 Responses to “Album Review: The Men—”New Moon””
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