Chicago’s Mannequin Men blow the roof off garage-rock with their sophomore release, Fresh Rot. Incorporating a fuller sound than their debut, Showbiz Witch, Chi-Town’s dirty rockers deliver their hooks bold and unafraid, while retaining their post-grunge aura. In addition, the band takes some interesting steps in new directions, something that the record would have only benefited from more of.
Mannequin Men open up Fresh Rot with the garage-guitar jangle of “Private School”, with singer/guitarist Kevin Richard ripping into the scions of these elite institutions. “School” is only one of a number of great straight-up garage rock pieces on Rot, with “Mattress” taking it up a notch thanks to an excellent guitar wail, “Fun Never Ends” playing like proto-punk Buzzcocks, and finisher “We Are Free” serving as a wonderful summing-up of the album, being fun and rollicking, but also with underlying power. And “Free” features the great ‘band anthem’ chorus of “We may be mannequins / But we can move / We are free!”
There are other straightforward tracks on Fresh that don’t quite make it to those heights, a little too straightforward, like early tracks “Boys (They Don’t Mind)” and “Pattern Factory”. And, in between those two, “The Pigpen” is just too sloppy and repetitive. But what makes this harder to overlook is that the Mannequin Men do such great work when they step away for this formula.
Fresh Rot delivers a few darker tracks that are equally as strong as the more level fare, such as the harder “We Are Invisible”, which still retains a drunk fun and a catchy refrain, and the powerfully pressing “Dead Kids”, which keeps Mannequin Men’s guitar jangle, without losing the song’s force. The Men go a little alt-country on “Ev’rybody Has Lved Her”, with some scratchy, distant vocals in the verse, then an in-your-face sing-a-long in the chorus. But nowhere does the band show more growth than with “22nd Century”. Sad and wistful, the song is not only great as a change of scenery on Rot, but also wins you over on its own merits.
Known throughout The Windy City for their energy-fueled – and alcohol-fueled – live shows, Mannequin Men could be seen as just some bar-rock staple and nothing more. But on Fresh Rot, the foursome not only shows they can do more, but they actually deliver. And one can’t help but feeling this is just a run-up to much, much more…