What do you do with a group of gypsy bikers who want to make chamber pop music? You give them a studio filled with items found in the garage, fireworks and producer Bill Moriarty and they return one heck of a unique and wonderful album.
Man Man has claimed that Rabbit Habits is their "pop" album, which is a bit of a stretch for your typical band. Man Man however, is not your typical band. The way they do pop is to turn down the usual screaming and add even more odd instruments into the mix, including a wooden xylophone, but still - it is in no way your typical pop record.
On this, their third full album, Man Man has broken everything in twos. The first half of the album (the Rabbit half) sounds like the score to an animated Looney-tunes marathon.
From the moment the door closes on the lead-in track ("Mister Jung Stuffed") the crazy chase with wind-up legs begin. The image of a talking car racing down Cartoon Street can be imagined behind the quick drums and falsetto "la la's." Two minutes and thirty seconds later the cartoon car starts honking its horn behind quick drum rolls, to signify that track two, "Hurley Burly" has begun. Instead of the car racing down the street, it's more of a strut down a sidewalk in a busy neighborhood. Some clownish oaf with shoes too big for his feet is strolling down the block and accidentally getting into mischief; that is, until the old-timey cops catch wind of his happenings and they begin a hot foot pursuit (scored perfectly by track three, "Ballad of Butter Beans"). Soon, our cartoon miscreant gets caught and thrown in the clink and we know he's in "Big Trouble" (track four). What do you do when all your freedom is taken away and you're thrown in the big house? You sing the blues, of course (because you just want to "Doo Right"). In the end, you're just a part of the machine. Banging away in the clink making those license plates and eating your "Easy Eats with "Dirty Doctor Galapagos," which brings Act One to a close.
The colors begin to fade from their vivid, animated qualities and into those of the real world, but not the real world you're a part of - more the seedy underbelly of the real world you're a part of and thus begins the second part of the album. The Habit part deals more blatantly with the topic of love, keeping pretty close to the path of love's dark side.
The slow build of the Go-Go stomper, "Harpoon Fever (Queequeg's Playhouse)" quickly places you in the dark world you have now been submerged in. Singer, Honus Honus is almost yelling the lyrics over the piano's single key being struck over and over. While it still has little flourishes of cartoon sounds, the second part of the album has a bit of a narrower path; after all, love is a big topic to cover. Not your typical love either, but the dark and mysterious side... the kind that Leonard Cohen writes and sings about.
Ending an album with two songs over seven minutes in length works perfectly with the way this album is set up. The longer of the two ("Poor Jackie") is a gut-wrenching tale of love gone wrong. At eight and a half minutes, it chews your heart up and spits it back in your face. With its tempo changing and dark lyrics... it's as close to an epic poem as Man Man has gotten in their three albums.
The world this Philadelphia art rock band is able to create is built on the foundation of having fun with music. That rings true in all aspects of this record, from the craziest non-sequiturs to the deep, dark beauty. If this is what pop music is in the eyes of Man Man, consider me pop music's biggest fan.
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