In time for Pride Month, Man on Man released their sophomore LP, Provincetown, this past June. If the band and album names don’t tip you off, this is a proudly gay indie rock act co-led by Roddy Bottum and his boyfriend, Joey Holman. Bottum first established his songwriting credentials playing with the alt-metal band Faith No More during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by a lead role in the power pop outfit Imperial Teen through the late 1990s and early 2000s. Though Faith No More and Imperial Teen remain active, Man on Man has provided another outlet for Bottum’s prolific creativity. This project is decisively the most personal of the three.
Building on Man on Man’s strong self-titled debut released in 2021, Provincetown returns to their heavy pop sound situated between Faith No More and Imperial Teen. An immediate comparison is the solo work of Bob Mould, though the music of Man on Man (jokingly abbreviated as M.O.M.) is often warmer and happier. On their preceding LP Man on Man, tracks like the opener “Stohner” and “Daddy” established a deliberate hard rock pacing akin to bands like Foo Fighters. Meanwhile, later songs on the album, like “Lover” and “Kamikaze”, became softer, incorporating piano and strings into their sound to achieve a more vulnerable effect. Lyrically, the album addressed gay male love and relationships in all their different forms, whether separation (“Beach House”), commitment (“Two at a Time”), or blowjobs (“1983”).
Provincetown elaborates these themes and pop songcraft with even more flair. If Man on Man was a Covid album with a certain level of introspection that reflected the uncertainty of that time, Provincetown wants to get out and party. Provincetown, the historic summer mecca for many in the gay community, provides an emblem for this attitude. As before, Man on Man display an easy capacity for writing hook-laden pop rock.
The album opener, “Take It From Me”, has a 1980s rock vibe followed by the indie rock sound of “Showgirls”, which would find a place on an LP by Superchunk or Hypnolovewheel circa Altered States (1993). The hard-driving “Gloryhole” has appealing anthemic energy with its dense wall of guitars and vocals buried in the mix. Stand-out tracks also include the sparkling “Haute Couture”, which has a strutting, spoken-word sing-along quality, and the LP’s closer “Hush”, a six-minute mini-epic including J Mascis guesting on guitar.
Though Bottum and Holman are clearly enjoying themselves, there is unavoidably a politics to this release. Musicians who identify as LGBTQ+ are nothing new today, though, listening to Provincetown, it is important to recognize generational differences. Man on Man reflects an older Boomer/Gen X perspective that witnessed the devastation of HIV/AIDS, in addition to experiencing the discrimination of the Reagan period when coming out carried palpable risks. Today’s climate is not universally better, just different. In many ways, the gains achieved over the past several decades appear to be slipping, whether through legislation, harassment, or open violence, such as with the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.
Man on Man don’t address these issues explicitly. Still, Bottum and Holman are intent on creating a space for queerness and openly gay love in the rock community, which remains decidedly heteronormative. They also recognize the need to cede ground to younger gay musicians and activists. The track “Kids” acknowledges this intergenerational transition, with Bottum singing, “I don’t get the references / But I get the message” and later in the chorus, “Take a minute to listen to kids / ‘Cause the grownups are kind of a letdown.”
However, none of this would have any significant meaning or impact if the songcraft weren’t exceptional. Man on Man excel at delivering pop hooks in various ways across rock genres, and with ten tracks at 42 minutes, there is plenty of playful joy on Provincetown. Given the LP’s title and content, one could apply Adrienne Rich’s argument from “Notes Toward a Politics of Location” (1984) to this kind of release. But perhaps this is too serious a reference. Bottum and Holman have a sense of humor and want to have fun and share it. That’s ultimately their bottom line.