On their previous releases, Chicago’s the M’s sounded like the second coming of Marc Bolan, but instead of playing songs about Jeeps, he played songs from the Ray Davies songbook. On their third album, Real Close Ones, the band sound beholden to a different genre all together: psychedelia, but not the Beatles brand, the Dave Fridmann/Flaming Lips brand (which coincidentally, borrows heavily from the pomp and circumstance of glam). And while the genre switch isn’t like switching from neo-soul to Norwegian black metal, the band both succeeds and struggles with the transition.
The album opens with fuzzed-out rocker, “Big Sound,” the track that launches the M’s new aesthetic: high-strung vocals sung underneath tape-hiss-heavy instrumentation that sounds half like Dr. Dog and the other half Elf Power. The track personifies everything the band gets right about psychedelia (the vocals that sound like they’re sung from deep inside a tie-dye shirt, the happy but disorienting riffs) without sounding like a mere tribute act. Ditto for the ambling “Get Your Shit Together” (a song way better than the title would suggest), the Blitzen Trapper-like “Naked,” and the stomping “Bros in Arms.”
When the band struggle to make their new genre compelling, the results are pretty unmoving. The slow waltz and tempered dynamics of “Breakfast Score” refuse to connect, leading into the Soft Bulletin-sounding “Pigs Fly,” which builds and dissipates over its three minutes without going anywhere. On the album’s worst track, “Impossible View,” the M’s cease sounding like a revived Elf Power for one track in order to sound like a Guess Who tribute band.
On their self-titled debut (released on Brilliante in 2004), the M’s sounded like a tentative group of glam-rock imitators, and on their 2006 follow-up, Future Women, the band were more self-assured in their conquering of the glam-rock pastiche. The move into their new genre is nothing but a status assurer; they do nothing here that stretches them beyond what they’ve already done. On Real Close Ones, the M’s sound like a slightly older version of the band that made their first album. Sure they’re really good, but they’re too pensive to make the step up to the big leagues.