While for many contemporary indie bands, the inevitable foray into dadrock sounds unnatural, awkward, and just plain boring, The Men are completely dedicated to their craft. Unlike, say, latter-day Wilco, which sounds undeniably like a band of its era, trying very hard to sound like a band from a previous era, ‘Tomorrow’s Hits’ sounds somewhere between a top-notch roots rock band who are putting out the slightly-lesser follow-up to a classic album (think ‘Goat’s Head Soup’) and an aged roots-rock band putting out what they perceive as a comeback (think Creedence Clearwater Revisited, or the second incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd). Whether this is superior to those bands who try for the retro angle to progress their own sound depends on who’s listening, but for those of the indie crowd who have grown cynical with the rise of quasi-indie-folk like Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers, The Men are sure to provide some reassurance that there are still folks out there willing to actually listen to Neil Young’s discography as opposed to any number of greatest hits compilations.
It’s clear from the start that The Men are occupying a fantasy land, with the first line to “Dark Waltz” going “my mom bought me this guitar/nineteen and seventy-four,” which would place singer Mark Perro, at the very least, in his late 40s if that were true. But the song is not a character story about some imagined band – it seems, at least nominally, to be about The Men, or perhaps more accurately, who The Men wish they were: an all-American, working-class bunch of boys who started a band to get out of their one-horse Midwestern town. And they pull it off pretty convincingly, abandoning the reverb present on last year’s ‘New Moon,’ and all other alternative rock tropes along with it. “Get What You Give” dispels any doubts that it’s just a gimmick, and opens up the possibility that they just might be the bastard child of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.
“Another Night” borrows the horns right off of ‘Exile on Main St.’ and sounds just fitting a soundtrack for a night of drinking and gambling in Reno. “Different Days” builds on the momentum with some killer, relentless base and crashing chords, all to propel the stellar delivery of lines like “I hate being young,” which seems to be the mission statement for an album by a band that really does wish they were pushing 50, with all the romance and shots of whiskey that comes with being a grizzled rock road warrior.
After a brief, plaintive interlude on “Sleepless,” which goes to show that The Men are at top form when they embrace their punk roots and simply rock out rather than attempt a ballad, “Pearly Gates” shows up to knock that ironic grin off your face and blow the doors off of whatever hole-in-the-wall bar you’re sitting in. At six minutes, it’s the longest song on the album, and when I first looked at the track listing I was certain it was going to test my patience sorely, but pulling off a feat I thought was only possible from vintage Rolling Stones, it never stops rocking, it never gets boring, and it never drags on. It’s absolutely just long enough, and is the fulfillment of the promise on “Different Days.” Their enterprise of evoking the glory days of heartland rock isn’t just wishful thinking, and “Pearly Gates” makes it a reality. Things mellow out appropriately on “Settle Me Down,” which is a pleasant head-bobber that gradually fades into closer “Going Down,” which is the track most evocative of their previous work, but it’s a fitting closer – it keeps it light, and doesn’t go on too long, though I’m sure the band was sorely tempted to.
While ‘New Moon’ wasn’t the triumph I thought it could be, this album certainly approaches that potential. It’s hard to say where The Men could go from here; I’m crossing my fingers they don’t experiment with progressive rock, and instead stick to gut-wrenching roots rock, which they proven to be more than adept at here. Perhaps they could benefit from a listen of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, or maybe they’ll head in the direction of CCR’s classic ‘Chronicle’ album, but whatever they choose to pursue in the future, The Men are one of the few working bands today that I’d enjoy having a beer with as much as I would having their music soundtrack a night at the bar.
Recommended Tracks: Another Night, Different Days, Pearly Gates