Good band names are a scarce commodity these days—or at least they're starting to require a lot more thought. Then again, you could always just say fuck it and take a real obvious one that's—maybe—not currently being used by anyone else, which is just what Brooklyn's the Men have done.
To be clear, the Men we're talking about are not the Human League side project of the same name, not Stranger columnist Jackson Hathorn's mother's band also of the same name who were best known for their 1992 single "Church of Logic, Sin, and Love," and not the slew of other bands that go, went, or will go by that name or some version thereof.
With that out of the way, this the Men were setting themselves up to be the most important the Men of the decade with last year's Leave Home, a snarling, thumping, unwieldy beast that calls to mind the Hunches (RIP), the Hospitals (RIP?), and Drunkdriver (most definitely RIP). The Men's Goliath swaths of squalling, distorted, and unrelenting guitars and drums come at you again and again until you can't help nodding your head and submitting to the deluge—or running for cover.
All of which brings us to the band's latest, Open Your Heart. The album starts out promisingly enough, with guitars full charge ahead, but you can quickly tell things have changed. First, the Men have turned their instruments WAY down, and what's with all these actual, discernible guitar parts? A couple of instrumentals sound downright placid. Then there's the stripped-down acoustic rhythm and blues/afternoon beer buzz of "Candy" ("When I hear the radio playin'/I don't care that it's not me" and "I've been to the darkest places/I've been a total wreck/I picked up what I could/And laughed off all the rest").
What the hell is going on here? Are the Men growing up?
Heart is varied, sometimes melancholic, and barely resembles Home—although "Please Don't Go Away" and "Cube" come close. But the results vary. The title track is a high point, a gnashing plea that spares nothing in its 3:42 running time. Everything on Heart is a nod to tighter musicianship and more conventional songwriting, but that's not saying a lot—your average rock 'n' roll consumer will still find this sound rather untamed. Unfortunately, it's often at the cost of the total abandon that Home captured so well.
Still, once the Men find their footing with this new approach and continue to challenge themselves (a sign of maturity!), they'll likely create some of the more compelling rock explorations of the next few years. In the meantime, let's hope they keep on turning it all up, loud.