Brooklyn punk-rock rabble-rousers The Men have gone astral on their appropriately-titled fourth record, New Moon, leaving behind some of the blistering urgency of their earlier work in favour of a more restrained, melodic sound.
And while some of the new songs crackle with a dynamic freshness that sonic reinvention and taking chances typically brings, you get the sense that the band isn’t really playing to their strengths throughout much of this disjointed album, and have in turn lost some of the magical mayhem that made their music so breathlessly arresting in the first place.
New Moon eases itself open with the piano-driven, bar room honky-tonk of ‘Open The Door’, a swinging acoustic number that might make you question if your are indeed listening to the right band. It’s a pleasant enough track, but ultimately would become rather forgettable were it not for the drastic sonic left-turn taken by the customarily raucous New York outfit. ‘Half Angel Half Light’ strives for the poppy edge of The Replacements but winds up sounding more like a different, less revered, Minneapolis band in the process – Soul Asylum – a comparison the band surely weren’t striving for in the studio.
‘Without A Face’ thankfully snaps the record to life with a bristling, insistent melody that never lets up over the course of its three fitful minutes, augmented by an assured, Neil Young-like harmonica strain that only drives the band to quicken their breakneck pace. But the uneven pacing of the album unfortunately continues with the shambolic folkiness of ‘The Seeds,’ as The Men try, and fail, to achieve the unfinished charm that made The Basement Tapes so endearing and engaging.
The raw fury of the start of ‘I Saw Her Face’ is made that much more jarring after the plodding previous track lead you nowhere special, and again the Uncle Neil influence is all over the number, but to less successful effect. And with these two tracks clocking in as nearly twice as long as most of the others on the album, the middle portion of the record is wayward and far too loose to hold your attention, despite a ripping guitar solo that closes out ‘I Saw Her Face.’
The wistful instrumental ‘High And Lonesome’ sounds just like the stark desolation of North Dakota, a place that few know about and even less want to visit. It might be better served as a tranquil album closer (or even a pensive introduction), but placed as it is between the previous cacophonous number and the desperate punk pulse of ‘The Brass’ – the album’s clear high point – ‘Lonesome’ just comes across as an awkward, emotionless segue that continues the fragmented loud-soft-loud tendency of the record.
The band wisely keeps things turned up to 11 for the frenetic churn of ‘Electric,’ which continues the strong momentum that ‘The Brass’ ushered in on the album’s second half. Sadly, they don’t keep up the pace or the passion on ‘I See No One,’ a sloppy guitar drenched number that sounds like an unfocused Mudhoney B-side. The keyboard driven bounce of ‘Bird Sound’ again echoes The Band, but it never reaches those anthemic heights, and instead sounds like an unfocused, scattered mess that drags on far too long.
The album draws to an untethered end with the Dinosaur Jr.-esque roil of ‘Freaky,’ which makes you wonder what would have happened had the whole record contained this much promise and fire, especially when coupled with the expansive closing track, ‘Supermoon,’ which ends the album with a slow-burning, warped feedback majesty that unfortunately fizzles out long before its eight minutes are up. New Moon is at times quite captivating and as rowdy as you need it to be, but its weaker moments consistently outshine its brighter ones, leaving the listener with an album half-full of both indelible sonic fury and equally forgettable missteps.