The sentence “A Guy Walks Into A Bar…” could be the beginning of a silly joke or the start of a fascinating and mysterious story that begins in said location. Listening to the lyrics of Mini Mansions‘ latest third release, it’s clear that the supergroup trio (consisting of Michael Shuman of Queens of the Stone Age, Zach Dawes of The Last Shadow Puppets and Tyler Parkford, who tours with Arctic Monkeys) are not meant to be taken too seriously and because many of their songs appear to be situated in the alcohol establishment, the senseless actions of the characters could be influenced by a little too much booze. Principle songwriter Michael Shuman met his ex-fiancée at a bar at the beginning of their now-disintegrated relationship and thus that environment to him is a place of carefree opportunity and the first chapter of many stories.
Listening to A Guy Walks Into A Bar is like switching between Radio X, Heart FM and Absolute Radio Classic Rock. In that its indie-pop is tinged with the idiosyncratic styles of glam rock, new wave and disco and also an ELO influence like on their previous record The Great Pretenders. It has a self-parody humour that suggests that Mini Mansions are all too aware of how stereotypically nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek they are being.
Their new album begins with the fuzzy Arctic Monkeys-ish indie rock ‘Should Be Dancing’ – a title that’s perhaps a nod to The Bee Gees – which pulls us straight into the night-out scene and all its antics: “Nights on the town. Looking for a rise. Where we go search for thrills. Dressed to kill. Popping pills.” This album is inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theory of Pleasure Principle: a human’s need to pursue their hedonistic instincts. The lyrics of ‘Should Be Dancing’ touch upon the impulsive reckless behaviour of those instincts, but like many other tracks the words are straight from a 70s disco collective’s songbook: “We should be dancing all night. With that jukebox calling your name. We should be dancing all night. And if it feels good it’s good for my mind.” Mini Mansions want you on the dancefloor.
The hyperactivity side of hedonism is reflected well in the speedy ‘Bad Things (That Make You Feel Good)’. An addictive standout track that blends the synth-pop of Gary Numan, glam rock of T-Rex, and with a rock n’roll swagger, before turning into an arena clap-a-thon. It’s an anthem for daredevils that wish to mosh: “I hear the music. It makes me wanna get up and shake. Jumped in the fire just to see how much more I could take.” Yet within the hasty behaviour, Michael Shuman has a brief epiphany about how this could affect his future life: “I feel the fire and it’s burning little holes in my life. I see the future, but it never had a child or wife.” A rare moment of contemplation.
Nevertheless, on ‘Forget Your Name’ (which features Z Berg from The Like) the lead songwriter reflects on the selfish mentality of the intoxicated party-goer; to get high, have a fun time and hope for a one night stand at the end, without a care in a world about the consequences. It sounds like a combination of Robert Palmer’s ‘Addictive To Love’ with The B-52s’ call-and-response, psychedelic-country and the giddiness of an 80’s pop song. Another song of theirs that’s easy to clap to. It’s a marmite kind of track because it’s cheesy yet bold, but in the context of the album’s hedonistic bar theme this kind of energy fits well in the record.
If by now you didn’t realize that A Guy Walks Into A Bar… is an album that is meant to be viewed humorously, they throw in ‘I’m In Love’, a purposefully over-the-top mick-take on love songs. “You get that feeling that your heart’s gonna pop. No need for for CPR or to call the cops”. Its a creepy yet funny promo uses chroma-key technique where the faces of Mini Mansions are superimposed comically on other people’s bodies. ‘Works Every Time’ also uses love clichés but it’s a nice breather from the fuzzy hyper pop energy, with a slower, glittery, airy atmosphere and classic electric guitar performance.
Individually the tracks on Mini Mansions’ latest offering are not the best inspiration for great song writing, deep philosophy or original composition but nor is it trying to be. Taken as a whole A Guy Walks Into a Bar… is an enjoyable study on hedonism and bar culture. Furthermore, there are some days where it’s nice to listen to something that’s just fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. A guy walks into a bar and let’s his impulse roam free.
Guy Walks Into A Bar is out now on Fiction.