Let’s say you loved Man Man’s 2006 release, “Six Demon Bag.” You listened to it obsessively, went to their concerts, tapped your feet to its frantic, antic rhythms under your desk at work, hummed it’s sneakily catchy melodies as you walked down the street. Let’s say you loved it so much that you committed it to memory and could more or less reproduce it on command. Well then, that reproduction would probably sound exactly like “Rabbit Habits,” the band’s third album.
In some ways, this replication is awesome. The same lovable freneticism is recapitulated, and this time instead of rhyming “spider” and “cider,” singer Honus Honus rhymes “brighter” and “inside her.” If you love everything about Man Man and just want more, then you’ll be totally, 100 percent satisfied with “Rabbit Habits.” Every song feels familiar enough to be comforting, with little twists to remind you that this is “Easy Eats” and not “Black Mission Goggles.”
But let’s say you like Man Man as much in theory (as a carnival send up of both over-produced pop and over-serious indie) and in practice (as something fun to listen to when you’ve had too much Red Bull). And let’s also say you’re enough of a music snob that you think the grand philosophy behind Man Man — whatever that may be — could yield millions of albums, each as wonderful and unique as a wonderful unique snowflake. If that’s the case, you’ll probably be a little chagrined when you realize that, like a pair of wonderful and unique snowflakes, “Six Demon Bag” and “Rabbit Habits” melt together and are rendered more or less homogenous as soon as they’re put side by side.
To be fair, however, this redundancy is only really noticeable in the first half of “Rabbit Habits.” Just as “Van Helsing Boombox” was an easy entrée into the world of Man Man — even if the rest of the album reminded you of a nightmare you once had involving a woolly monster that sounded like Tom Waits — so then the first half of “Rabbit Habits” provides the obsessive Man Man listener a transition from “Six Demon Bag” to the latter half of “Rabbit Habits,” which subdues considerably, granting Honus’ occasionally dreary lyrics more prominence towards the end.
In some ways, it’s easier to think of Man Man’s third album as two separate EPs, split along a fault line somewhere near “Harpoon Playhouse (Queequeg’s Revenge),” the chorus of which sounds like Waits’ “2:19” off “Orphans,” and “El Azteca,” which sounds like a mash-up between Man Man and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.”
Up until this point, the band’s schtick has essentially consisted of performing standard pop songs at double time, with twice the percussion, in one of three silly voices (respectively, the woolly monster, the creepy child and the sort-of-straight man), all of which constantly threatens to drown out Honus’ often-tortured lyrics. After “El Azteca,” however, the album veers from the incongruously rambunctious to the relatively restrained, with both melody and lyrics approaching the bleak as the album’s title track discusses the undesirability of dying alone. While “Top Drawer” briefly brings back some of the spunk, any sense of resurrected mayhem is quickly chased away again by the eight-minute epic waltz “Poor Jackie” and the solemn seven-minute “Whalebones.”
Then again, to simply suggest that “Rabbit Habits” sounds just like “Six Demon Bag” fails to note that nothing on this album is actually bad, or even only OK. Sure, Man Man’s giving their listeners a little bit of the same old thing, but a rehash of old Man Man is still better and a lot more fun than plenty of what’s out there. So when you’re copy of “Six Demon Bag” starts to wear out from overuse (or, in the digital age, once your play count gets embarrassing), it certainly won’t hurt you to pick up “Rabbit Habits” and get started somewhere between square one and hard-fought familiarity.