“I wanna see you write a love song / I wanna see you going down / I wanna see you when you try so hard / I wanna see you when you turn it around,” sings guitarist Nick Chiericozzi on “Turn It Around,” the first track of The Men’s Open Your Heart. The song does indeed signal a turnaround for the band. After a blistering riff—lifted from either Stiff Little Fingers’ “Suspect Device” or Montrose’s “Space Station #5,” take your pick—it launches into a tribute to Raw Power-era Stooges that’s all beehive distortion and hypodermic leads. Only here, it’s brightened by Chiericozzi’s melodic drift and romantic savagery. On their previous album, 2011’s excellent Leave Home, The Men wouldn’t have dared to make something so sharp or sentimental. Or upbeat: Compared to Leave Home’s murky smear of scream-fueled, shoegaze-shrouded punk, Open Your Heart is practically a party album.
Granted, it’s a rowdy, bloodshot, roaches-in-the-punchbowl kind of party. For every bittersweet hook-fest like “Turn It Around”—or the title track, which copiously cribs from the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”—Open Your Heart boasts ragged, Sonic Youth-like epics like “Oscillation” and “Ex-Dreams” that aren’t in the least bit bashful about probing every dark opening of Daydream Nation. Some residue of Leave Home’s toxicity remains, particularly in the black-tar hardcore of “Cube” and the drugged, droning bliss of “Presence,” a callback to The Men’s first reverent forgery of Spacemen 3, Leave Home’s cryptically titled “( ).”
The music-geek Easter eggs don’t let up—but the density does—on “Candy.” Imagining a jam session between the Meat Puppets and CCR, the twang-steeped tune is the most vulnerable, shivering thing The Men have ever committed to tape. And committed it is: “I’ve been through the darkest places / I’ve been a total mess / I picked up what I could / And I laughed off all the rest,” sings Chiericozzi with a mix of cornpone confessional and aching catharsis. Then, with all the usual defenses of venom and volume dropped, he softly asks, “When was the last time you were able to take a breath?” With Open Your Heart, The Men have taken that breath. And it’s only made their hearts beat faster.