The Men: Open Your Heart (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Three reactions, Three impressions, Three Takes on Open Your Heart by The Men.
Generally the evolution of a band is a good thing—unless, of course, it means that a band you like evolves into one that you don’t. The Men’s Leave Home was one of my favorite albums of 2011. It was a brutal yet skillfully dynamic marriage of punk, metal and art rock. This year the band released their follow up, Open Your Heart. It might be a little over-dramatic to say that they have completely lost me with their new material, but I can’t say that I am really all that enthusiastic about the direction they are headed either. Open Your Heart is marked by an unfortunate tendency towards sincere alt-rock. There are still healthy doses of punk energy here and there, but the band also sounds a bit like they are self-consciously trying to sound a bit more “grown up.” In their vocabulary, grown up seems to mean Springsteen-esque lyrics and more stylistically reserved guitars. I do like the rambling, psych-country tinge of “Country Song” and the instrumental parts of “Oscillation,” not to mention the primal savagery of “Cube.” Where the band loses me is in (what sounds to me like) the generic rock fare of “Turn It Around,” “Please Don’t Go Away,” and especially “Open Your Heart,” which sounds to me like an R.E.M. practice session. Like I said, there are still aspects of the record I like (generally the guys are still fully adept at crafting unique, nimble instrumental twists and turns), but overall Open Your Heart just has me reaching for last year’s Leave Home.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
The new record by The Men, Open Your Heart, kicks down the doors with an opening blast called “Turn It Around”, a hard-charging near-anthem. And right away we come to the problem I have with this record: It rages and it bangs away, but it doesn’t ever actually rock, which is a strange trait for a rock record. Not that this record is bad, exactly. It is overlong in spots (why is “Oscillation” more than seven minutes? And while we’re at it why is “Country Song” even on the record?) and oddly fixated on instrumentals. If you half-heard this at a party or maybe between bands at club, bits might tug at your ear, make you wonder “what was that?” but none of the music here really sticks. Sometimes it feels like it pounds and surges toward a celebratory ecstasy, but it never really achieves it. Some tunes, like the Buffalo Tom-esque title song, are a bit more successful. But mostly the album lacks a distinguished voice. I mean, trying sound like the Replacements isn’t exactly a “voice”, though honestly that “Candy” song isn’t too bad.
Again, there’s the problem. none of these tunes are terrible, but at the same time none of them are very good or memorable. Everything about this album is set strongly to “medium.” Lord help me, I don’t think I can live in a world where I have to read think pieces written by dudes who cut their teeth on the Strokes calling this stuff “the return of rock.”
When bands venture towards the soft middle after roping me in, it pisses me off. For whatever reason, The Men’s much more refined sophomore LP Open Your Heart is guilty of just such a crime, but doesn’t get my blood boiling. It’s actually kind of fun. The variety and dissonance from their excellent debut LP Leave Home gave way tow a more twangy, classic rock sound on Open Your Heart—culminating in Rolling Stones-tinged country circa 1971 of “Candy.” A good chunk of the record is pretty straightforward guitar rock, with fat, easy-to-digest riffs methodically shoved down your throat. The title track and “Turn it Around” sound like boiler plate “indie” rock from any number of bands over the past 25 years, and even the most “out there” track, the seven-plus-minute jam “Oscillation,” doesn’t really test the listener too much. While the record doesn’t top their inventive debut record, it should bring them new fans. Softer edges are slightly disappointing for those who were really drawn in by their debut, but for me it wasn’t too hard to get over that and find things I liked about the record. Open Your Heart is a fun, guitar-heavy affair that is meant more for summer BBQs and road trips than art school mix tapes—another reason the LP has a chance to get the band in front of much bigger audiences in the near future.