MEN - Talk About Body
When I turned seventeen, I had a hot, sweaty, extended fling with Le Tigre. It was great, the perfect accompaniment to my riot grrl phase (except, y'know, I was a boy) and a fun dalliance that opened my eyes to musical possibilities outside the UK album chart. However, like all young love affairs, my tryst with JD Samson and her cohorts seems so long ago and somewhat alien to me now. I'm still fond of Le Tigre and am known for digging out their eponymous LP when I'm feeling nostalgic, as if glancing through a sepia-tinged photobook of lovers past. With the band on prolonged hiatus though, they were relegated to an afterthought. But now MEN, Samson's new freedom-fighting pop posse are here and they possess an inclination to talk about body. Will the spark reignite?
The Brooklyn-based band and self-proclaimed 'art performance collective' (eek!) consist of the androgynous Samson, Ladybug Transistor's Michael O'Neill, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi from LTTR, a 'feminist genderqueer artist collective'. As ya do. MEN was eventually conceived as a result of Le Tigre's decision to press 'pause' and Samson and O'Neill's ensuing side-project Hirsute but it's a relatively clean, unmessy birth.
Debut album Talk About Body is an elastic party album, finding space for zeitgeist statements and the odd surprising shift in tone amidst the electro-charged riot-pop punk. It's not a million miles away from Le Tigre in all honesty, but flexes its man muscles in new and exciting ways. 'Life Half Price' is a great opener, slow-building its rhythmic instrumental elements and adding an infuriatingly catchy, disinterested vocal refrain before a moodiness settles in and the climactic spoken/shouty-word second act ("I'm not your baby's daddy") establishes a reoccuring lyrical stance of anger and defiance. Lyrical themes run the gamut from economical hardship and gender politics to no shortage of sexual empowerment; the lead single 'Credit Card Babies' (and the track that gives the album its title) is a disco celebration that happens to be celebrating lesbian procreation with its big, on-the-nose questions: "Why don't you adopt? Borrow someone's cock?" Forgive them the odd shock factoring though, as most of the biting commentary takes subtle stabs with the canines rather than chowing down outright.
In fact, much of the album is cleverly constructed. There are lots of hooks, as repetitive as they may be, and the musicianship and production is spot-on while still retaining the scuzzy rough edges that songs like power anthem 'Who Am I To Feel So Free' require. The droll vocals are sometimes galling, sounding bored (and even whiny) when they should be sassy, and the aforementioned repetitive nature might annoy some listeners; 'Rip Off' even cheekily acknowledges this with the lyric "half spoken, half sung... repeating simple phrases, creating a hypnotic monotony". However, the majority of the album provides pleasure as a straight-up dance record - if it had been released in 2007, the year when New Young Pony Club and CSS soundtracked indie dancefloors, it may have even jumped on to radio playlists. Any track with a title like 'Boom Boom Boom' needs to justify itself by being a fun 'un and this one does so with its handclap-beats and skittish guitar. 'Simultaneously' attempts something a little more brooding and succeeds entirely, although 'Take Your Shirt Off's erotic come-on is more of a damp, mid-tempo Gossip squib.
So, does the debut walk like a man? It's certainly cool and slick and danceable, and those listeners looking for a message amidst the misleadingly throwaway fun can take something away from it. As a whole though, it's never a truly transcendental record (although 'Simultaneously' pushes it) and the lack of variation on offer means the only time you'll likely play it in its entirety is at a shindig. I do get the feeling the band's live show, which is apparently one fun ride, would really do the music justice - and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are a clutch of confused, slightly awkward seventeen-year-olds down in the front row falling in love with their new fave band.