Men Who Listen are a poor man’s REM. They are very good at arpeggiated guitar lines, and all the members are obviously accomplished musicians – their timing is right on spot, and all the notes are played perfectly. The arrangements are quality, especially on the minor key “(Dead & Buried) In Your Love”; where a very nice electric piano creeps it’s way in and out. All the harmonies hit the sweet spot of thickening up the lead vocal without overpowering it, and at times, you don’t even realize it’s multiple voices singing – just one rope of song, made of separate and equal threads, all gluing everything together.
Where REM’s Michael Stipe succeeds is where Men Who Listen fall short. Stipe’s oblique lyrics offered themselves to many different interpretations, but on songs like “Look but Don’t Touch” – MWL go for the obvious and tired: “There she goes walking down the street, the kind of girl you have to meet, but you can’t say a word to her, you’re just a tin can amateur – look, look but don’t touch, (yeah yeah you know you want to yeah)” Again, everything is perfectly in tune, right on time, succinct and rehearsed – but the perfection of the album is also its downfall – it just doesn’t force the listener to guess about what is going to happen next. Although pleasant to listen to, there’s no inherent drama in the songs – this is due to the consistency of everything – there are no triumphant highs and no rock bottoms in the music – it stays safely in the middle of the road.
It’s a good, easy listening rock album that’d be a safe bet to play with the whole family around – nobody’s going to take any offense to the sound, and nobody will complain about the quality – but unfortunately, nobody’s going to take major notice that it’s playing either.