If you’ve never spent much time in the Middle Western United States, the thing you need to understand is that there are literally hundreds of bands in this part of the world trying and failing at doing what Mannequin Men have tried and succeeded at with their latest album. Whereas all these hamandeggers graduated from some Big Ten school (where they took the ‘Mats album Let it Be as a validation of their burgeoning alcoholism and justification for playing like shit live, because, hey, we’re just a bunch of loveable losers anyway playing mid-tempo rock and roll music), squeaked by to get their degrees, found jobs, and moved on to weekend warrior the twelfth-tier bar circuits of the larger cities from Ohio to Nebraska and in between, MM put the music (and the camaraderie of the music) ahead of the lifestyle, and the hard work they’ve put into it pays off into an experience that gets more rewarding with each new listen.
This brand of rock and roll Mannequin Men have evolved to—away from the balls-out post-punk drive of their earlier material—has been executed so poorly by so many for so long—this style of barroom dudes-being-dudes Neil Young/Replacements/Big Star/etc. real rock and roll spirit—it’s so often done by incompetents playing incompetently then having the gall to ask if someone will bring them shots to the stage—living in the Midwest, you can forget how glorious this can sound in the right hands, played by inspired, enthusiastic practitioners who can hold the booze enough to do it right.
Because, gosh, I’ve known these guys for years now, and what defines them more than anything (aside from profound obsessions with hockey) is this steady enthusiasm and inspiration in listening to and playing music. They keep up with what’s happening now, are well-studied with what worked in the past (can’t think of anyone else who would forsake the better-known Pagans songs to cover “Us and All Our Friends are So Messed Up” and do an incredible version of it), and carve out their own musical territory, both a part of and separate from the general tenor of the times, the surroundings. They’re knowledgeable about the music without being nerdy, able to incorporate their influences without it being paint-by-numbers.
It’s a more introspective work, a documentation of life expressed in songs like the sweet-plea of “Hobby Girl” (“you should find a hobby, girl…”) and the rough jangle “Flying Blind” and its “you should really think it over” vocal hook. The songs are slowed down a bit, with more space to venture into Neil Young territory like in the jam “Medill.” In a way, it’s what Strange Boys have been getting up to, only without “that voice.”
All in all, this is the kind of record that opens up many possibilities for Mannequin Men. It’s familiar, but it’s a kind of familiarity that can only be achieved by caring enough to do it right. [Addenda]
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