Chris Donaghey
Reviews Editor
June 22, 2006
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Rock Music Reviews
Men, Women, & Children
Men, Women, & Children

I love to dance. Even though the only salsa I can do has habaneros, that doesn't stop me from digging my music. For the longest time during the 1990s, being a white guy meant that either you moshed, you were in a boy band, or you stayed the hell away from the dance floor. Nobody wanted to see us show our stuff, which isn't to say that we inherently have any stuff. All of a sudden, it became alright - nay, damn near accepted - for people with absolutely no skin pigmentation or sense of rhythm to just hurl themselves into spasmodic whirlwinds at live shows. It was heavenly to feel accepted for loosely harnessing a groove and allowing my body to follow suit!

This movement has continued in earnest for the past few years, reaching its heights with such bands as Basement Jaxx, Hot Hot Heat, and Franz Ferdinand. Nowadays, the entire music listening community can unabashedly dance the night away. We haven't experienced this kind of liberation since the days of disco. All we need right now is a band to bring it all together: the glistening hyperproduced sheen of the mirror ball, the horn and string samples that stir the stew, and the outspoken manifestos of getting up to get down. Men, Women, & Children want us to believe that their eponymous debut is all of the above, a veritable disco party throwdown for the new millennium.

Let's see if they have the skills to pay the aforementioned bills, shall we?

For one, an ideal dance band won't demand much, but they will demand that you liberate your booty. They could care less about your mind, your sorrows, or how much mascara you've been able to steal from Macy's; they care about you getting your ass out there and burning some calories. In this function, Men, Women, & Children succeed. Come on, their opener, "Dance In My Blood," is 4:18 of celebratory explosiveness and shouts for no-strings-attached insanity. "You don't need a reason/to get out on the dance floor?" It doesn't get much more direct than that. It's a mission statement to which I would attach myself! The other numbers on this album aren't as forcefully demanding in their tone, but the vocals are used as inconspicuous layered instruments in the more overwhelming final product. There are times when the banality of the lyrics become aggravating due to sheer repetition ("Who Found Mr. Fabulous" and "Monkey Monkee Man," for example, would exist in two dimensions if they were any more thin), but these times are generally immaterial. Dance music in general - especially disco - has long used some nice vocal hooks, but the lyrical depth was never that fundamental to the agenda. At least they didn't decide to make an ill-conceived ballad or a slow jam to kill the buzz. It's a constant throwdown where the style outweighs the substance on a massive scale.

Now, on to the most important facet of dance music: the tunes! The bouncy guitars, the drum licks and tight basslines that inspire office drones to do "The Worm," the electronic loops and samples that add the gloss to the mix. All of the usual suspects are here. Boy, are they ever. Outside of acts that classify themselves as electronica or techno, rarely have I ever heard so many sounds squeezed into about 40 minutes of space and time. "The Name of the Train is Hurricane" is an undulating collage of guitars (courtesy of a Glassjaw alum), multi-tracked falsetto, and synth squeezings that layer track upon track on themselves until there's seemingly a paradoxical singularity of rhythm. "Messy" and "Lightning Strikes Twice in New York" are two more numbers that typify their "you can never have enough" formula. For the most part, Men, Women, & Children are able to transmit their virulent brand disco fever. The shortcomings occur when overdone vocals collide with vacuous guitar loops and needless bells and whistles to make the music sound like Good Charlotte taking ecstasy in a seedy alley. The only cure for that is to press stop. Honestly, it's just as disconcerting as it sounds when it happens. Searching for specific songs generates problems as well. Due to the above-mentioned amount of production, a lot of the songs tend to blend into one another to form a shapeless blob of throwback kitsch. It goes to show that it's not a problem if you borrow a retro ideal, but it becomes an issue when what you borrow one technique and use it twelve times.

The final standard by which I judge albums suitable for dance parties is whether or not they have replay value. Do you want to hear this again? Is this an album that leaves your feet aching for more of the same punishment as they just endured? The answer here is...not really. This is the biggest disappointment of Men, Women, & Children. As you listen to it, it's infectious in its presentation and execution; after the strobe lights turn off and you're forced to go home, though, the reality sets in that you can hardly take any of these songs with you. It's analogous to your high school prom. There's a lot of glitter-laden fun and you have a damn good time shaking what was given to you via genetics...but when all is said and done, you remember everything but the music.

Release date: March 21, 2006
Label: Reprise
Rating: 4.8 / 10

[RMR]