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The M's - The M's

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Artist: The M's

Album: The M's

Label: Brilliante

Review date: Jun. 15, 2004

My initial reaction to listening to the M’s untitled new album was that, given an appropriate amount of exposure, the Ms could be fairly popular. I should add that I mean that as a compliment – and that certainly cannot be a given whenever an adjective like “popular” gets thrown around. If they lived in New York or Detroit, the M’s might already be well known – they’ve already opened for the Walkmen and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and they did just get booked to open for their Windy City compatriots Wilco – but coming from Chicago, a city whose garage rock scene isn’t as well developed, they face slightly longer odds.

Call it garage rock or call it retro rock, the M’s channel the Zombies and the Kinks and dozens of nameless bands, now known to the world only through the Nuggets compilations. The difficulty with first-wave garage rock, however, is that both the imitated and the imitators – the Ray Davies of the world and the kids who did their best to sound like Ray Davies – are both elevated and well-respected. Contemporary garage rock, fair or not, doesn’t get the same treatment. The M’s new album occasionally suffers in that respect. “Dirty Old Dog” is a dead-on recreation of ’60s blues rock, all the way down to the halting guitar riff and the faux-cockney vocals.

At other times, however, the M’s just power through this problem by taking otherwise straightforward replicas, playing them as loudly as they can, and piling on the distortion. Not a terribly complicated idea, but it works. The album’s third and fourth tracks, “Big Baby Bottoms” and “Break Our Bones,” combine into one nearly indistinguishable six-minute crash of shouted vocals and fuzzy power chords, and its sixth song, “Holdin On,” strains itself until it turns into a kind of super anthem; a little self-conscious – a check-the-boxes effort to write the Great Anglo-American Rock Song – but that doesn’t diminish the fun.

A teacher once told me that if I couldn’t turn in something brilliant I should just try to turn in something clever. The M’s don’t break any new ground, nor does this album really build much upon its source material, but it’s clever more often than not, and pleasant enough to listen to from start to finish. It’s a slight album, but it suffices.

By Tom Zimpleman

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