When you retrospectively listen to the unpolished early material of a band that has since progressed and evolved, it’s clear that there is an unrealized potential in the sound and a foreshadowing of what’s to come. Some bands never get any better, or fall apart before they have the chance. Man of the City, the sophomore EP from U.K.-born, Montreal-based musician Reno McCarthy, manages to showcase a heightened level of expertise unseen in his earlier work. But while McCarthy has an earnestness about him and is clearly skilled as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, his EP ultimately suffers from its creator’s lack of experience.
The sound is deeply rooted in the ‘70s. Synths, upbeat guitar, and bass lines reveal strong disco and dance-rock influences. So strong, in fact, that McCarthy fails to establish a sound of his own. The music isn’t bad, necessarily; on the contrary, McCarthy has a knack for creating a groove and writing solid harmonies. It is, however, riddled with sonic and lyrical clichés.
The title track establishes the Man of the City’s mood: It’s cheesy, but danceable. Grandiose vocals, backbeat rhythms, and groovy bass lines evoke a ‘strutti’ down the sidewalk’ sort of feeling, but it somehow lacks a certain ‘cool factor,’ as if McCarthy is trying too hard. The pulsating groove between verses in “Just About to Get Happy,” however, is a striking example of the few moments of brilliance and creativity throughout. These moments shine a light on the potential of this young musician, as well as the obvious skill of his accompanying musicians. The instrumental parts throughout manage to remain catchy and poppy while being relatively complex. A jazzy trombone solo in the middle of “They’re at It Again” provides a welcome break from the dance-y repetition, but soon it’s back to the disco grind. Closing track, “So,” finally breaks from the mould thanks to a strong melody and more diverse qualities: a sound reminiscent of U2, and a groove reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
The production could be worse, but it also could be a lot better. The dynamic range and balance between each instrument and the vocals are respectable, but the recorded sound of the instruments lacks harmonic depth, almost as if they’re computer-generated, which takes some of the music’s soul away. Lyrically, Man of the City is less than cohesive. As with other aspects of the EP, cliché abounds (“Hey sister say sister! (It’s the revolution)”) and lines are often awkward just for the sake of rhyming. It seems, though, that the words are more intended to go with the flow of the music and evoke mood than to make any statement on their own.
Man of the City isn’t the strongest EP to be released this year,, but it’s reflective of a young musician finding his way. It’s unoriginal and cheesy, but there’s an eagerness and an underlying talent here that hint at good things to come for Reno McCarthy.