There’s a strong argument to be made that The Men are the best classic rock band whose members weren’t alive when rock ‘n’ roll was at its peak. The Brooklyn band didn’t quite start that way—back in 2011 when they emerged with the critically acclaimed Leave Home, they were essentially a noise rock band, squealing and pummeling their way through one ferocious crusher after another, occasionally sparing some time for a simmering, ominous slow-burn. But with each subsequent release, they loosened up and leaned into a groove, often maintaining the same kind of intensity of their earliest records while opening up the songwriting to incorporate more chug, more choogle, more bluesy wheeze. And they did so at an absurd pace; if 2014’s “Pearly Gates” sounds almost as destructive as “Bataille,” in spite of being released three years later, it’s because they were only recorded one year apart.
In recent years, The Men haven’t so much felt like they’ve been progressing along the same trajectory as taking whatever detour suits their muse. The noisy, garagey Devil Music from 2016 found them looking backward for what felt like the first time in their entire career, while its follow up, 2018’s Drift, saw them blowing themselves out into seemingly any and every direction possible, from gentle folk rock to synth-laden goth. After seven albums in ten years, The Men need no reason to do anything other than “because they can,” which is essentially what the various directions on eighth album Mercy feel like. Somewhat more reined in while finding the band at their loosest, Mercy is as peculiar an album as The Men have ever released, albeit one that sounds like nobody but themselves.
On a pure surface level, none of the seven tracks on Mercy share much in common. They’re (mostly) played on guitars, and songwriters/vocalists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi maintain their signature, ragged approach to rock ‘n’ roll, but by and large the band’s two bandleaders are content to trust listeners to follow wherever they go, whether it’s on a 10-plus-minute psychedelic choogler like “Wading in Dirty Water” or in a sparse, barely there piano ballad like “Fallin’ Thru.” There are moments here and there that reveal a glimpse of the band they used to be—however one chooses to interpret that—particularly on the Neil Young-meets-Buzzcocks road warrior blast of “Breeze” or the cowboy gallop of “Call the Dr.”
The disjointed nature of the seven tracks here makes for one of the less cohesive moments in The Men’s catalog, though by no means the least enjoyable, thanks to the strength of the individual songs. “Children All Over the World,” for one, is among the best songs the band’s ever written, a synth-goth reworking of The War on Drugs’ heartland haze that’s both fun and pleasurably sleazy. I’d take another eight if these if they felt like writing them, which they probably don’t. Then again, with a band like The Men it’s best not to count anything out altogether. As long as they still find joy in making some satisfying noise on electric guitars, anything is possible.
Label: Sacred Bones
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.