Tomorrow’s Hits opens with a song called “Dark Waltz”, and it can be heard as an unofficial reprisal of “Candy”, the strum-a-thon off Brooklyn band The Men’s 2012 LP, Open Your Heart. On “Candy”, vocalist/guitarist Mark Perro quits his day job and revels in the freedom of being able to toss back a few shots as early or as late as he wants. In some ways the opposite of The Replacements’ barroom sweeper “Here Comes a Regular”, “Candy” (though it’s not without a sense of limitations) is given another couple wrinkles of dimension during the chorus. “When I hear the radio play, I don’t care that it’s not me,” Perro sings, his voice a dewy and creaky thing that, of course, doesn’t aspire to reach airwaves anyway.
Maybe you’ve noticed the title of The Men’s new album, their fifth in five years — coming from an act who may never see a YouTube view total of theirs bedecked with more than one comma. On “Dark Waltz”, Perro thinks back to his first guitar and the strength that burst through his wrists and forearms upon plugging in, ultimately realizing that playing the instrument and choking songs out of it is what he does now, and people listen. It’s like the thought is sinking in in real time. Perro sounds elated, which makes sense; when he was recording “Dark Waltz”, he probably had the hunch that it would be just the start of his band’s best record to date.
Suffice it to say that “Dark Waltz” isn’t the only song on Tomorrow’s Hits with an easily named precedent in The Men’s work: “Going Down” has the Open Your Heart trasher “Turn It Around”, while the countrified “Sleepless” has last year’s “Open the Door”. The fact that The Men have already been so prolific, have earned veteran status as fast as any act in rock history, has meant that they can’t help but write samey songs from time to time. But those who don’t sleep don’t rust, either, which helps explain why Tomorrow’s Hits is unsurprisingly excellent.
“We gotta just keep on tryin’ for another night,” Perro roars on the third song here, “Another Night”. He’s a big proponent of writing about girls (or maybe just one girl), but he also sounds like dudes you know who get lost when the chick’s not around. “I’m waiting for this high to fade” is the message on the steadily kicking “Different Days”, which has an existential quality we’ve heard in approximately four score and seven Titus Andronicus songs. It’s true, though: Sometimes, you empty a botanical Ziploc and feel worse. Might just be bad weed, but still.
Perro and the other Men — and vocalist/guitarist Nick Chiericozzi, guitarist Kevin Faulkner, bassist Ben Greenberg, and drummer Rich Samis all deserve attention here, too — clutch to rock music like it’s a flotation device. Accordingly, Tomorrow’s Hits reflects decades of reverent listening and plays like it’ll have some say in whatever becomes of the now 11-year-olds this record will transform like Tommy transformed William Miller. Perro recently told Rolling Stone that Tomorrow’s Hits bears the influence of classics like The Stooges’ Fun House and The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., which implies not just a degree of debauchery but also an appreciation for the roots of rock. Remember, for all the hooch and cooch and Marseilles heroin, Keith Richards maintains that his Gibsons were what inspired him to wake up in the morning (or whenever) during the recording of Exile.
Tomorrow’s Hits doesn’t boom like The Men’s early material (namely, 2010’s Immaculada and 2011’s Leave Home), but it’s more rousing instrumentally than last year’s New Moon. “Pearly Gates” is a six-minute flail with screaming guitars and horns that sound like an elephant sobbing over her newly poached calf. That’s as loud as the record gets, but go all the way back to Leave Home highlight “Bataille” and you’ll know that The Men don’t have to be overpoweringly amplified to pin you against a wall. “Another Night” is all knuckle-pounded piano, thrill-seeking horns, and E Street Shuffle mania. “Going Down”, the fuzzy closer, is a bungee-corded yet tightly constructed farewell.
We’ve mentioned Mark Perro’s devotional ear for rock and how it’s shaped his own music. We’ve referenced Almost Famous and its protagonist, the young writer enchanted by all things rock. Let’s face it: The Men have all the tools required to spur obsessive listeners. Perro and company are lifers in an ambiguous sense, writing and recording without apparent commercial ambitions. It’s like they’ve never given a thought to what might be good or bad about that. They’re slaves to the groove. They can’t help it.
Essential Tracks: “Another Night”, “Different Days”, and “Going Down”