It’s easy to look at The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing and sneer with skepticism. Hindsight has proven the depths that bands are willing to plumb to forge a gimmick that will get them some attention, and from the name to the steampunk-style get-ups to the lyrics focusing almost exclusively on the many events and characters of the Victorian era, cynics would be quick to assume that this is just another act looking to get their flash in the pan over with, not helped by having comedian Andrew O’Neill among their ranks. But in truth, The Men have actually been around for about a decade now, now with four albums and an established fanbase to their name, suggesting there must be some kind of longevity factor that distances them from the majority of bands they’ll unfortunately be lumped into; after all, having a gimmick isn’t inherently a bad thing if it’s done well.
That’s probably the key lesson to take from Double Negative, it would definitely be that, as, stripped of all its madcap 19th Century symbolism, this is a perfectly competent punk album, complete with a snotty, quintessentially British delivery and a rattled undertone that just wants to smash everything in sight. The fact that The Men have a clearly-defined angle of which they deliver with supreme knowledge and tact – as well as being a brief enough listen to not take up too much room – only helps Double Negative as an album that’s better than it really has any right to be.
What helps the most in this regard is the fact that the gimmick is not the driving force here, but the fact that The Men have enough musical prowess to hold their own as it is. The metallic thud of There’s Going To Be A Revolution aside, this is, for all intents and purposes, a pretty lean, sharp album, unafraid to drop below two minutes when it needs to and still managing to emerge at the other side with a fleshed-out track that’s still enjoyable. What’s more, the ventures into Dead Kennedys-esque anarcho-punk on Disease Control and Occam’s Razor creates yet another layer of flurrying anger over what Andy Heintz’s gruff hardman bark is already perfectly adept at creating. Even if, at points, this can be a fairly standard punk album, there’s enough of a grimy overcoat to give Double Negative the edge that they really want.
But to only discuss The Men’s sound would be to alienate their primary feature, that being vignettes surrounding the gruesome lifestyle of Victorian Britain that plays out like a Horrible Histories book read to a punk soundtrack. What’s even more impressive is that, even though this has been where the band’s attentions have laid for a while, there’s still plenty of fruitful ground to cover, whether that’s William Burke and William Hare’s grave-robbing-turned-murdering business on Supply & Demand, Amelia Dyer’s drowning of illegitimate babies in the Thames on Baby Farmer, and the debauched, scandalous lifestyle of Albert, Prince Of Wales on Obscene Fucking Machine. It’s a novel, interesting take on the societal critiques typically associated with punk, especially showing a dexterity in writing in its relation to the modern world, seen in the respective criticism of capitalism and greed, and the cry for a working-class uprising on God Is In The Bottom Line and There’s Going To Be A Revolution.
It’s a curious little oddity of an album, wildly different from everything else on the market in terms of vision, but with The Men never breaking into areas that are too unfamiliar. Double Negative is definitely an enjoyable album, perhaps their most enjoyable to date, and blessed with the sort of wry wit and tongue-and-cheek humour that such a wild period of history deserves and needs to stay fresh. The niche of punk-loving history buffs presumably can’t be that large, but regardless, this is still a fine place to dig into.
For fans of: The Damned, Dead Kennedys, G.B.H
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Double Negative’ by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing is out now on Leather Apron Records.