The Men’s steady slide into rustic country stars that followed those distant days as a harrowing post-hardcore band – and back again once or twice – make The Men one of rock music’s most un-pin-able groups. What we could expect to find on eighth album Mercy has been anybody’s guess.
As it goes, Mercy doesn’t diverge too far from the kitchen sink formula of 2018’s Drift; a country twang here, mud stomp rock there -- and what’s this up here? Oh, just a bluesy organ – nothing to see here. The Men are increasingly playing what the hell they like. It’s cool. We love ‘em for it.
When last album Drift flitted between genres without a solitary fuck given for consistency or flow, it mostly worked. Its flagrant diversity made it a compelling, if not universally lauded, record. Mercy tries the same trick but this time isn’t so savvy. Instead Mercy is a quite literal mixed bag – in musical styles and quality of the tracks.
Let’s start with the big plus: lead single ‘Children All Over The World’ is one of the band’s finest moments. Ever. That really is saying something for a band eight albums deep. A track that sees The Men for the first time experimenting with an ‘80s classic rock sound; big powerful drums, tangy ‘80s guitar, and a fizzing Van Halen synth-line to boot. One can’t help but feel we should have expected more of that on Mercy. But then who’s stupid enough to predict anything of rock music’s least predictable?
‘Wading In Dirty Water’ is a country-rock stomp that is epic in both substance and time (clocking in at over 10 minutes long). It’s quite superb, if pushing the envelope of attention spans a little. Unfortunately, the momentum is swiftly hacked when the extremely dour ballad ‘Fallin’ Thru’ follows. And momentum is a key word here because it’s where Mercy really suffers. The album struggles to string its best songs together, giving it the feel of a bonus disc.
‘Fallin’ Thru’ is filler between the album’s two strongest tracks and isn’t one of The Men’s best efforts on any level. I’d wager no fan of The Men would disagree. Why the band themselves felt so differently about it is a mystery. If they really must, why not just drop it in down the line and instead keep the energy up? But then I’m trying to predict again aren’t I. Similarly, ‘Call The Dr.’ is another southern-inspired jab of Americana that isn’t in any way offensive or awful, but fails to really register anything at all, serving mainly as a bridging track before the next highlight, ‘Breeze’; an excellent and much-needed garage rock switch up.
Final track – the title track ‘Mercy’ – is again well-intentioned I’m sure but all too dreary and the filler between the killer becomes all too apparent in an album only containing seven tracks to begin with. All told, Mercy feels like a mini-album of odds and sods, built around two good tracks and one great one. The Men are unlikely to tarnish any former glories with Mercy; they’re built on a solid reputation these days of releasing whatever the fuck they like. With lucky dip rock and roll, you’ll cop a sour one eventually. Fortunately, even at their less-than-incredible selves The Men are still doing it better than many.