The Men - Tomorrow's Hits
Record Label: Sacred Bones
Release Date: March 4, 2014
The Men have sure as hell been busy the last few years. They began picking up speed with 2011’s Leave Home, an unrelenting record influenced by both noise rock and post-hardcore but not really fitting into either box. However, only a year later the band pulled a complete U-turn and created their own breed of jammy garage rock infused with bits of surf, punk and straight-up rock ‘n roll on Open Your Heart. Although that record had a six-minute instrumental track called “Country Song,” that wasn’t enough to prepare anyone for last year’s New Moon, a rough-around-the-edges romp through the world of country & western music as viewed through the lens of noisy punk rock. At its finest New Moon captured the same transcendent feeling wide open spaces can bring in a manner similar to records like Darkness on the Edge of Town or The Moon and Antarctica. At its worst it was a whole lot of fun.
So for those keeping score at home, Tomorrow’s Hits marks the band’s fourth record in as many years and stylistically is light-years away from Leave Home. This also is the band’s first album recorded in a real studio, which is naturally a trade-off: the songs sound crisper and more direct than ever before, but it’s at the cost of the wild “this whole thing could fall apart at any second” sound that was part of what made Open Your Heart and New Moon so thrilling. Sure the band cuts loose and revs the tempo up as much as ever on first single “Pearly Gates,” but that track is an anomaly on an album that otherwise shares a lot more in common with Tom Petty than punk rock.
The mellowing notwithstanding, the band makes good use of the chance to refine their sound in a real studio. A great example of this is the staccato horns on “Pearly Gates” that give the song a punch it would otherwise lack. Additionally, guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi use the opportunity to try guitar tones and styles besides their usual mix of fuzz, crunch, feedback, and the occasional haphazardly strummed acoustic. In fact, the ringing, shimmering intro to “Give What You Give” might make you wonder for a split second if you haven’t accidentally tuned in to a local classic rock station. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that though, especially given that The Men wear this more classically-oriented style so well. None of the eight songs on Tomorrow’s Hits sound remotely forced or insincere, rather from start to finish the record is another fine example of The Men doing what they’ve always done: playing whatever music sounds good to them at the time without worrying about what we think or what other artists they might sound like.
This kind of no-bullshit artistic sincerity coupled with the band’s rigorous work ethic evidenced by their voluminous output certainly makes them worthy of admiration. But Tomorrow’s Hits is not without flaws. Especially given the fact that this record was recorded so soon after New Moon it’s a little frustrating when one thinks about what could have been if the band had spent just a little more time letting the songs gestate. All eight tracks here are good to be certain, but only “Pearly Gates,” opening track “Dark Waltz,” and “Get What You Give” are truly great. In fact, the opening lines of “Get What You Give” speak quite candidly to a sort of artistic weariness that seems inevitable for a band that’s been as explosively creative as The Men: “You get what you give in the morning / The ‘new you’ sails at dawn / I’d love to lay in bed / But I’ve got to catch this song.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shaking my finger at The Men and telling them to take some well-deserved time off from recording and touring. Consistently getting a new record from them the first week of March the last three years has been fantastic. But the band seems to be nearing a point where they will need to either totally reinvent themselves once more or deliver on the promise of these last three albums and produce a bona fide rock ‘n roll classic to avoid stagnation.
While Tomorrow’s Hits certainly is different from New Moon, these two records are the least different of any two in their catalog. If you want The Men to continually surprise you that might be a bummer, but in my view it’s a great sign. If The Men continue to mine this fertile vein of classic rock ‘n roll I think it won’t be long until they establish themselves as a truly great band, not just a really good one. But then again, what do I know? It’s entirely possible that next March they’ll be back as a nu-disco version of their former selves. I certainly hope not since that sounds horrid, but stranger things have happened. Just listen to “L.A.D.O.C.H.” and “Get What You Give” one after another if you don’t believe me.
Regardless of what the future holds for The Men, Tomorrow’s Hits continues their excellent run that is now in its fourth year. It may not be groundbreaking or shocking, but it’s quite a good record nonetheless. So hats off to arguably the hardest working band in indie rock, and may they keep rocking for years to come in whatever manner suits them at the time.