Man Man – Life Fantastic
Record Label: Anti/Epitaph
Release Date: May 10, 2011
“The world is a shitshow you can barely handle,” claims Man Man leader Honus Honus on “Piranha’s Club”, the second track on the spastic Philadelphia noisemakers’ latest album Life Fantastic. Forgive him for speaking in the second person; he’s merely projecting his own state of maladjustment on the rest of us. It’s okay, because he lays the blame squarely on himself often enough to make up for it. “I’m not a scoundrel, it’s just the suit that fits me,” he barks on album opener “Knuckle Down”, while he’s even more directly self-loathing on “Shameless”—“I can’t stand the man that I am.” Yes, Life Fantastic is that kind of album. The world—and often objects of unrequited love—have had their way with Honus’s heart and mind, and he seems to get a sort of sadistic charge out of kicking himself while he’s down.
And yet, it’s also not that kind of album, for as morose as Honus sounds lyrically, this is fairly up-the-middle Man Man fare, which is to say, filled with quirky rhythms, unique arrangements, and Honus’s cabaret-punk vocal styling that’s more than a little indebted to Tom Waits. On occasion, the music reflects the pain that lies beneath—witness the plaintive strings that sweep over the tiptoeing, Balkan-influenced “Steak Knives”—but it mostly feels like Honus having fun at his own expense (and thankfully taking us along for the ride). As a whole, Life Fantastic is the band’s most accessible album yet, full of memorable hooks while retaining the eccentricity and theatricality that have become synonymous with the band. Not even Professor Snape’s class can help you defend yourself against their infectiously fiery “Dark Arts”, while more mid-tempo tunes like the brassy stomp of “Haute Tropique” and the surprisingly guitar-centric “Bangkok Necktie” are equally ear-catching. And if you’re looking for a manifestation of Man Man’s love of show-tunes, look no further than album closer, “Oh, La Brea”.
The dissonance between subject and sound is striking, and in that light, the album’s title seems kind of ironic. But perhaps not. “It’s how you hide your cards,” Honus sings on the album’s stunning title track. “It’s how you dress your scars.” We all have those things we conceal from the world, perhaps deep dark secrets, or maybe just fleeting thoughts we have that make us thankful no one can read minds yet, or maybe just a laughably small penis. It seems to imply that, in spite of those nagging troubles that ail us all, life can still be pretty fantastic. The only real difference between us and Honus is that he isn’t quite so poker-faced. And if he never hits up Doyle Brunson for lessons, that will be just fine.