Open Your Heart
(Sacred Bones; 2012)
By Alan Baban | 13 March 2012
The second-half of “Please Don’t Go Away,” in my opinion the best song of this young year, pretty much encapsulates the Men: what they’ve become since Leave Home surprised everyone breathing room air, the steps they’ve taken since, the expansive, cluster-headache’d bid for joy that Open Your Heart so frequently is. In the second half of this song, the guitar mic’d into the right channel sounds utterly famished, slow-moving and tired, like the person playing it is considering his empty stomach, whereas whoever is playing guitar in the left channel is literally burning his fingers right off: it’s cavalier, wild, and kinda uncalculating without ever descending into an illogical tapdance over the fretboard; put simply, it fucking slays. And having both play at the same time is just transcendent—the same longing notes but filtered through two very different outlooks. It’s Open Your Heart in a nutshell: a record of real balance where all the constituent parts are manic inversions of each other. Did I mention the liberal use of slide guitar?
Let’s back up a bit. This isn’t the record we were all expecting after Leave Home. Contrary to expectations, the Men haven’t come back with a Shanda Sharer: ’92 Revisited or even an Abacinate the Holy Water; Life is Steam and Shit Rock or a title that might suggest they’d reverted to earlier doom-leanings. Open Your Heart is a delightful, emotion-baring, fifty-fisted thing. It’s the sound of the Replacements when they finally tracked-down Tim (1985); Sonic Youth circa EVOL (1986) and invigorated real-drummer shenanigans; it’s, more recently, goddamned Titus Andronicus casting The Monitor (2010) on an unsuspecting Internet. Basically: an uncommonly open rock record where a band re-invents its core identity whilst, in a sense, not really changing much about its sound at all.
Because run twenty seconds into opener “Turn it Around” and you’ll know this is still the Men: massive, amp-blown, ridiculously overdriven energy, a riff shamelessly lifted from another band (in this case it’s Stiff Little Fingers’ “Suspect Device”), a death’s-head attitude to utter loudness. The difference lies in the spirit, that incalculable thing that transforms Open Your Heart from an album of facile re-treads into an album of dancing-on-air guitar solos and roguish riffs that might be re-treads (I’m looking at you, “Cube”) but are re-treads played so gleefully and with this just wild imagination as to moot the criticism entire. It’s hard to hate on the Men; they’re a band in clear high-spirits, and there are moments here where, for want of a better phrase, they’re simply better than the shit they’re nicking. Due to the evil-twins guitar frolics of Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi, the songs never sound overtly-serious or indebted to some “higher” lineage of rock music—the band, often as not, is pulling and drifting in all sorts of carefree directions before their sense of balance ties it all together. Sometimes it’s useful seeing these songs as pairs. Just like how “Turn it Around” and “Animal” act like a self-enclosed RAWK! unit, the following tracks “Country Song” and “Oscillation” blend seamlessly into one another. In the former, a lap-steel expresses regrets over typical Men fare, before a tremolo’d interlude effortlessly phases us into a kraut-jam that sprosses out some gutter-fuzz distortion and a lackadaisical vocal delivery cribbed from J. Mascis (“Oscillation”). The Men, in short, are fucking around even when they’re obviously not fucking around.
When it comes to appropriating a century’s worth of shit-quaffing from the planet’s greatest rock bands, this approach, it turns out, is both strategic and really fun. It also makes Open Your Heart, without a doubt, the most honest a record-with-praise-giving-guitars has been in about a minute. Or since Sleater-Kinney last called shop. Because there’s nothing reactive or particularly cheesed-off about this sound. The distortion is not wet-blanketish; it shrieks with a kind of holy mirth. And for the duration of this record, the image is of a very happy band literally laughing their heads off. Loudness happens, but the band never self-plaudits by, say, making it mortifyingly obvious that, yes, they are being really loud now (there’s none of “L.A.D.O.C.H.”‘s ask-mercy pulverization). Instead, it’s as if the Men went away and ingested every fun piece of musical flotsam from their youths, then came back to write and record the thunder-struck hard rock indie record they’d always dreamed of. Unlike Leave Home—which, for all its vapourish charms, often felt like an undertaking convulsed with middle ear pain—Open Your Heart is the sound of people reaching for their dreams and turning it up to 11. It is a bright and rousing thing: a big Cheshire cat grin of a rock record where every guitar lick sparks with spontaneity and where every snare hits like the electric-guitar version of a high-five.