Looking back, I can still say with certainty that The M’s Future Women was the power pop album of 2006. I don’t particularly care if The Raconteurs released an album, or if The Hold Steady brought blue-collar rock back into hipster consciousness, or Phoenix let go of some of their R&B instincts and just put out a solid pop record. Those records are all quite excellent, but for sheer exuberance, warmth, and overall fuzzy pop goodness, The M’s had them all beat, handing in eleven songs that combined British invasion snarl, shoegazer density, ’70s soul and funk and old school power pop joy.
With the release of third album Real Close Ones, Chicago’s M’s still adhere closely to their successful blend of fuzzy pop influences. Yet this time around, there’s more subtlety—a bit more soul, a little less fuzz. They still display the same talent for writing hooks, verses, choruses and riffs, but without the need to immediately explode in the listener’s ears. While, in some ways, the explosiveness is exactly what made them so fun the first and second times around, their gradual shift suits them well, as Real Close Ones is yet another great collection of songs.
Beginning with the aptly titled “Big Sound,” the band augments their fuzz pop with upbeat piano chords and an exuberant horn section, making it one of the few truly explosive moments on the album. “Breakfast Score” moseys slowly, by contrast, plodding carefree toward a gradual and glorious ascent. The beautiful “Pigs Fly” wonderfully combines a jangle pop sound with quiet storm R&B, which I would have initially thought wouldn’t work, but these Chi-Town gents know how to put together one schmoove tune. In fact, one of the band’s greatest strengths is drawing from classic soul, which not only sets them apart from so many of their four-chord peers, but gives their songs a little added fun and vibrancy.
With “Get Your Shit Together,” the group chugs out a lazy, weekend jam, while “Ultraviolent Men” builds up from a subdued drum machine pop tune into a soaring, sublime epic of a song, all with the addition of just the right touches here and there. The song only adds a few minor layers—a little more bass, a bit more distortion—but it makes all the difference in transforming the song into something so much more. “Naked,” meanwhile, has the playful feel of Harry Nilsson, and “Bros in Arms,” not the Dire Straits homage you may think it is, finds the band kicking up some dust and turning up the fuzz again for a T. Rex-flavored rocker that shows the band can still kick ass, even if done sparingly.
While Real Close Ones may contain fewer of the band’s big, buoyant pop nuggets, it also reveals a new side of their musical personality. When toning down the distortion and the meaty hooks, The M’s still crank out a quality product and one proven to grow and flourish with each album. It’s more of an Autumn album than the summery bubblegum of Future Women, but the great thing, now, is that there’s an M’s for all seasons.
MP3: “Don’t Be Late”
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.