[5 March 2014]
Who’s the best damn rock band on the planet? No doubt there are solid arguments for desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age or sludge metal titans Baroness but, you know, it’s hard not to put the Men as one of the top candidates. They’ve released four albums, two EPs, and toured constantly since the turn of the decade. Their rare combination of prolificity and excellence has generated heaps of praise. From the hard-hitting Open Your Heart to the country-infused New Moon, the New York outfit has been keeping a consistently solid output, but their newest record Tomorrow’s Hits is their best yet. It’s a big-hearted bear hug of rock ‘n’ roll, country and classic rock.
The Men have never been afraid to go big but those massive guitar riffs have never sounded so sleek. Tomorrow’s Hits is expertly produced; every note comes across with a neon glow. Opening track “Dark Waltz” has Mark Perro laying down a chugging riff while he recalls the early and rough days of gigging. The back-up vocals during the chorus sound fantastic and energetic while the guitars sound appropriately dark. The closing guitar solo leads into a surprisingly great harmonica outro that sounds like primo Bob Dylan. Dylan’s influence can be felt throughout the album. Perro sounds like a less free-wheelin’ and more pissed off Dylan on tracks like “Pearly Gates”. His boozy holler drives a good amount of these songs along. When he half-way screams, “Man I hate being young!” images of drunken concertgoers yelling along instantly come to mind.
Still, Perro can’t hold up the entire thing by himself and one of Tomorrow’s Hits biggest strengths is the chemistry between each member of the Men. Rich Samis avoids flashy fills on the skins but he’s never afraid to put down an energizing beat and it works fantastically with Ben Greenberg’s rumbling bass. The Men have also learned a valuable lesson that other rockers haven’t quite gotten through their heads: organ and brass will almost always help a song out. “Another Night” is perfect late ‘60s American rock, the brass section pushed forward by the chunky and catchy riff. When Tomorrow’s Hits slows things down the Men start sounding like the Band. The easygoing “Sleepless” has Kevin Faulkner’s best performance on the lap steel. The shimmering guitars in “Settle Me Down”, along with a tender vocal line, make it the album’s calmest moment.
But the Men, being the Men, are at their best when everything’s about to go off the rails. “Different Days” has a Dire Straits’ riff used to perfection as Perro raises a gigantic middle finger. “Going Down”, despite its energy, is one of the darkest cuts here. “Pearly Gates” is the ultimate mad-capped adventure here. It’s Chuck Berry on speed as Perro stammers like the world’s angriest version of Dylan: “I never wanted this for ya! / A little p-p-p-p-paranoia!” Listening to “Pearly Gates” is akin to riding a rollercoaster at insane speeds and noticing that the machine looks ready to break down at any second; thrilling and occasionally terrifying. And of course, that’s the point. The Men is one of the most rambunctious live bands out there. They’ve finally made an album that’s comparable to their insane shows. Tomorrow’s Hits will run you ragged and you’ll love every second of this mad ride.