Watching a band mellow and mature over the years can be a wonderful thing. And then there’s The Men. Tomorrow’s Hits is the Brooklyn outfit’s fifth album in five years, but it sounds as if it’s been decades since 2010’s Immaculada. Rather than morphing gradually from avant-punk agitators to roots-rock-meets-’80s-indie revivalists, the men of The Men have leaped radically in that direction from album to album. Accordingly, Tomorrow’s Hits is the band’s coziest and most coherent full-length so far. It’s also its least compelling.
Clocking in at a brisk eight songs, Tomorrow’s Hits is an immaculately edited refinement of the retro-SST glory of 2013’s New Moon. Here, though, much of the ragged outburst and shambolic glee have been tamped down. Thanks to “Dark Waltz” and “Going Down,” the album opens and closes with minor-key rockers cut from the same homespun cloth—prickly distortion, barrelhouse piano, and a vintage vibe that puts a punk edge on The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Get What You Give” goes so far as to fade in on a wave of epic, jangly guitar that openly evokes Boston’s “More Than A Feeling”—only it works, giving way to a much humbler expression of classic-rock songcraft that doesn’t stray too far from The Replacements.
The list of blatant influences rolls on. The reverb-and-tambourine darkness of The Seeds meets a wistful vocal melody reminiscent of Big Star’s “13” on “Settle Me Down”; a throbbing, Chuck Berry-jamming-with-Canned Heat propulsion hurls “Pearly Gates” against the wall. The Men’s music has always been a celebration of its influences, and half the fun of listening is picking them out. But when the Van Morrison-via-Gram Parsons swagger of “Another Night” cranks up the sweat glands and saxophone, it turns into the new millennium’s umpteenth threadbare retread of would-be bar-rock authenticity.
The one thing The Men have not lost sight of is heart. Singer-guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi pack their vocals with raw-nerved abandon on the album’s standout track, “Different Days,” an organ-pounding, adolescence-fueled meltdown of Modern Lovers proportions, and even when the mood gets bleary and meandering on “Sleepless,” a Meat Puppets-esque stomper. A few more thorny elements—noisy vestiges of The Men circa the distant past of 2010—would have made for a livelier listen. But at its best, Tomorrow’s Hits nails the new-traditionalist sweet spot.