In early 1973, as documented in Will Hermes’ wonderful history Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever, the Village Voice ran a contest asking its readers to “Invent the ’70s.” “If you know what the ’70s are, or have any inkling where they’re going, write in and get your answer published.” Fittingly, no winner was ever declared.
What does it mean to remember the ’70s? The same as remembering any decade: many different things. This is a decade that started with Simon and Garfunkel doing Bridge Over Troubled Water and ended with The Clash’s London Calling. The political and cultural changes over the decade were overwhelming, far beyond the purview of this column except to say that if you want to “remember the ’70s,” it’s worth doing so with focus and intention.
That’s exactly what The Men are doing with their new album, New York City. The tough-to-Google band has made a tough-to-Google record, but behind the generic name is a powerful statement of intent: If we’re going to remember the ’70s, we should do so in as scuzzy and messed-up a way as possible.
“Hard times are over! / Now I just need coke,” bellows lead singer Mark Perro as the guitars wail on opener “Hard Livin’.” “The breaking of the dam / I was never into it / I just gotta be / who I am / It’s hard living!” Everything from the guitars to the vocals to pianos are focused on getting in a groove and playing the hell out of it.
The album’s promotional material mentions that the version of New York City you’re hearing wasn’t the first one recorded. The first version was recorded more traditionally, with each band member playing their own instruments separately. This was scrapped in favor of “four people playing in a room together.” The result is an album with a unified sound, removed from the hard-rock Americana sounds of previous Men albums, like 2020’s Mercy or 2013’s New Moon, my personal favorite.
But if there’s some variety lost in this album’s single-mindedness, it also produces joys that make it well worth the listen. “God Bless the USA” is a standout, a true retro-throwback that feels like Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” if Berry had ever followed through on the hard rock he helped start to create. While not referencing any one specific act or issue, the song’s message is clear enough: “there’s a fire burning / burning in the USA / US AAAAAAAAAA.”
A few uncredited quotes lie in the promotional material. One, in particular, functions as a statement of intent: “When everyone left NYC, the sewer opened and we crawled out.” It’s a dig at all the people who fled New York when COVID got bad, and it describes the sense that the city could be retaken in some way, a feeling also enthusiastically described in Parquet Courts’ 2021 album Sympathy for Life, an album which could easily sit on a shelf next to this one.
It’s also not far off from the feeling of the 1970s, when approximately a million people left the city. There’s chaos, sure. But there’s no place like it.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.