Early R.E.M. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. And countless bar-rock bands. These are the clear influences for The Men’s new album, Tomorrow’s Hits, and considering their already pre-eminent status as New York garage punkers du jour, the list is a surprising one. Gone is the out-and-out aggression and in comes a clear admiration for the classic American songwriter; gone completely is the scorched-earth thrashing that made their first albums, replaced with jangly melodies and bluesy stomps on tracks like Pearly Gates. Clearly there’s been a change of tack.
In the most basic way, this album feels like a homage – a selection of songs that harken back to 1970s and 1980s American rock music, to the extent that singer Mark Ferro claims his story “began in 1974”. Which would mean he would be 50 by now. This homage spills into the surf-rock of ‘Settle Me Down‘ and the extremely Springsteen-esque ‘Dark Waltz‘, where you can respectively taste the seawater and feel the bar lights turn down – in every song the listener is expertly transported to the Men’s chosen time and place. The songwriting is full of life, bursting with melody and has something for almost any listener to sink their teeth into. So, why don’t I just give it a solid 9 and move on?
Because it’s imitation. The Men haven’t hit upon a brand new strategy by copycatting their influences, and unfortunately the songwriting fails to cover its tracks; that jangle in ‘Get What You Give’ sounds great, but it’s as obvious a steal from R.E.M’s first few albums as anything I’ve ever heard; the piano and brass-led ruckus that is ‘Pearly Gates’ has a little more innovation, but it smacks of lifted ideas and borrowed concepts, and whilst taking such ideas and moulding them to a new aesthetic or fusing different genres together is no bad thing, The Men seem to have gone from fresh new faces to copyists. The songs are still good, the tunes tightly formed and precisely laid out, and the music has the weary-eyed soul of any Kentucky barhound, but the line between “influence” and “shameless idea theft” has blurred.
Still, what we’re left with is a good record. Good, not great, and listeners should take a hefty pinch of salt along with their Jack Daniels; avoiding the blatant regurgitation of others’ work, it’s a well-written rock record. Shame they didn’t actually write about half of it.
Tomorrow’s Hits was released 4/3/2014 on Sacred Bones Records. Get it here: http://sacredbonesrecords.com/releases/sbr107/