The Men aren’t the sort of band to get bogged down in mystique, but they’re just as unlikely to signal where they’re headed. In the span of 10 years they’ve gone in just about every direction that independent, guitar rock can possibly take you: blistering post-hardcore on Leave Home, searing noise rock on Open Your Heart, country twang on New Moon and good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll on Tomorrow’s Hits. Though just because they’ve done something once doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll never do it again—the group’s rowdy, raucous live shows proving that the great equalizer among all these various permutations is distortion and volume. Even the most tender of the band’s ballads can be upgraded to bar-band bashers, and with essentially nothing lost in the translation.
New York City, the band’s ninth album and first in three years—their longest between-records gap to date—bottles that loose, chaotic live energy into one of the most direct distillations of The Men’s purest essence yet. Were they to crank up the reverb and add some crowd noise, in fact, I could be convinced that this was a live album. The shout-along chorus and squealing solo of 12-bar-blues punk rocker “God Bless the USA” is the stuff that glorious, drunken nights out are made of, complete with vocal levels dialed up way into the red.
On New York City, The Men seem to have no use for the synthesizers or acoustic guitars that cropped up more prominently on their previous few albums. This is a punk album, full stop, from the one-note “I Wanna Be Your Dog” piano that drives leadoff track “Hard Livin'” to the one-note bass thrum that kicks off “Through the Night.” They scarcely allow much of a pause between songs on the five songs that comprise its first side, and “Peace of Mind” begins even before you’d know “Hard Livin'” was over. There’s a purity of execution here that feels at times like a throwback to The Men’s noisier, gnarlier origins, a kind of reset to their natural state of guitar-squealing revelry. It’s easy to understand why they’d occasionally feel the need to step out of their comfort din, but just as understandable why they’d feel the pull to come back every few records or so.
While there are a handful of songs that ease into a less frenetic pace here, they’re like the slower songs on Stooges albums—in context they provide breathing room, but they often surge with just as much energy and emotion as the bruisers. “Round the Corner” is just such a moment, strutting with a bluesy sleaze into a still-very-loud choral bark of “I ain’t lookin’ round the corner no more!” And the touch of twang highlighting “Anyway I Found You” is more Gun Club than Byrds, but its gently weeping slide riffs offer the illusion of tenderness all the same. Emotion overflows out of each of these ten songs, however, and nobody’s likely to come away from New York City without feeling something: joy, catharsis, or just the undeniable urge to shout.
Label: Fuzz Club
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.