“Won’t you slip on by my side, and drive through the countryside?” Nick Chiericozzi asks in the first line of “Open the Door.” The easy pace and acoustic guitars that open New Moon will likely have many listeners wondering if they’ve clicked the wrong track in iTunes, as brazen punk outfit The Men have shed some of their caustic edge in favor of a collection of country-leaning rock songs. The Men have opened the door on a whole new sound, and announce it proudly from the record’s first notes.
Naysayers will complain, but this move is why we’ve always loved The Men; they refuse to play by any rules or adhere to popular expectation. They certainly aren’t going to feel ashamed for following their hearts all the way to the doorstep of masters such as Neil Young. “Open the Door” serves as a mellow introduction, but The Men prove they can still bring the rock immediately after by delivering the powerful, minor-chord-driven “Half Angel Half Light.” Up-tempo guitars carry us through excellent verse melodies before growling guitars back and excellently rendered chorus. Some will simply not be able to stomach this new country-leaning sound; still, this is The Men at their best.
“Without a Face” moves even more so away from country (save the wailing harmonica), and it’s important to note that those pounding bass lines and garage-echoing, clanging drums are still right there in the forefront. If you can’t hear the band you loved on Open Your Heart, then you aren’t listening. When I first heard “I Saw Her Face,” I wrote that it might be my favorite song from the band so far, and that hasn’t changed now that other songs on the full-length surround it. Crunchy guitars, easy pacing built on steady drums, and hopeful lyrics make the song a clear album standout.
The Men take it all the way down on the slow and twangy “High and Lonesome” before proving they’re still capable of propulsive punk rock on “The Brass,” extremely catchy lead single “Electric,” and “I See No One.” Here is where those who dislike the album’s country elements will find solace. However, “Bird Song” returns to the country rock with twangy guitars and harmonica and adds an excellent organ part, recalling some of Dylan’s Basement Tapes recordings.
Two divergent tracks close the album, the upbeat and hook-centered “Freaky” and the sprawling and abrasive “Supermoon.” A slight sliver of folk might bleed through on these, but for the most part, these closers sound something like The Men of Open Your Heart. So, really, after all the shock and surprise, we have a record where about half of the songs really delve into wholly new terrain. Not only is it great to see an artist blending their styles with new influences, but also to watch this achieved with such unabashed confidence and skill. A new moon is the absence of any visible moon, while a supermoon results in the largest visible moon as it is nearest the earth. If The Men’s love of country-rock with rough edges was simply invisible previously, it’s shining brightly now.