By Alex Platt
Imagine, if you will for a few moments, that you’re a smallish punk band in America, gigging around your hometown and a few states outside of it, always having the time of your life and playing the music you want to without worrying about anyone else. Imagine you get some good traction, you get a pretty strong following and a loyal fanbase. Imaging recording two albums of pretty good, solid punk rock tracks. Then, boy oh boy, just imagine that something inside your head clicks, and you realise that, actually, writing honest and introspective songs about your lives and loves and losses with a lean towards a more classic Americana rock sound is an avenue you want to explore. Imagine you record that album, and it skyrockets you into the limelight. Those songs about ex girlfriends and holidays gone wrong are the catchiest, smartest ones you’ve recorded to date, and the whole hecking world loves them. This is your third album in what will now be a long and successful career. Of course, with great success comes monumental pressure to keep the cogs turning, to keep the creative juices flowing. Imagine the album you bring out next is well received and well liked, but doesn’t quite meet the same highs as your third. It’s much more of a callback to your first two albums, much more punk than rock, but still with those honest and self analyzing lyrics. Imagine you tour that album, and by god it still goes well and you still feel incredible up on stage. Then after that, where do you go? Do you carry on paddling down the punk river, thinking maybe the sound of that third album was some kind of amazing fluke? Or, you genius, do you go back into the studio and record an album so incredible it almost knocks that third one off of your top spot, and has the potential to do so future down the line? You can stop imagining now, because that whole scenario is a reality. That band are The Menzingers. That third album was ‘On The Impossible Past’. That latest album is ‘After The Party’. Let me tell you, the party is far from over.
OK quick confession; I fucking LOVE The Menzingers. Ever since a friend introduced me to OTIP I’ve been completely hooked, ear self and greedily lapping up any and everything they’ve put out since and prior. They’re an INCREDIBLY talented band that you need to go and listen to right now go on stop reading this, log off the computer, turn your music system up as loud as possible and blast through their backlot, you will not regret it.
I’ve been excited about the release of ‘After The Party’ ever since the first single, ‘Lookers’, started floating around online. Lookers immediately captured the spirit of OTIP, a slow starter of a song before tearing into a huge singalong wrapped up in layers of nostalgia and regret and self hatred without sounding too cruel. It made me very VERY excited, underwear changing excited, if you must know. All seemed to go quiet for a while on The Menzingers front, long periods of silence broken up by repeated plays of OTIP. Then, as if a cool breeze on a hot summers day caressing your face rolls through, a new single was released, ‘Bad Catholics’. It waswas glorious, although sounding a bit poppier, a huge guitar riff blowing open the doors to the start of the song. Then, dear readers, like a ray of sunshine breaking through the dark clouds of a stormy winters days, as if you hand of God the almighty had reached down through the clouds and left if there himself, ‘After The Party‘ landed in my inbox.
The album is HUGE. Not in terms of the track list but just in terms of sound and style and lyrical content. It starts with a massive guitar solo on the song ‘Tellin’ Lies’ which quickly rips into what sounds like an early Green Day song, the lyrics angry as vocalist Greg Barnett tears into actions that although once felt perfectly natural in his 20s, now feel odd now that he’s in his 30s (“buying marijuana makes you feel like a criminal”). It’s a hard ballad about the pitfalls of thinking you have your life together in your 20s before you crash headfirst and screaming into your 30s and the beauty/destructiveness of nostalgia and trying to cling onto those glory days of the past. Musically it’s a wonderful moment, proving The Menzingers still have some tricks up their sleeves. The next track is even more impressive, a monstrous riff belts out, sounding almost classic heavy rock (think the riff for Bachman Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet). It’s an obscenely in-your-face track and The Menzingers pull it off with aplomb.
The album is packed with surprise gems like this. There’s the usual Menzingers sound that we’ve all come to know and love with songs that wouldn’t feel out of place being bellowed between beers in a rowdy pub and then there a quieter, more thought-provoking moments. ‘Black Mass’ in particular is a stand out, sounding much like a classic country and western love ballad than a furious punk stomper. It’s so bizarre to hear this side of The Menzingers, but Barnett’s vocals carry it the whole way through. It used to be the case that, to me anyway, so similar were Barnett’s and Tom May’s vocal styles that it was difficult to tell them apart (some people still don’t believe me that there are actually two different singers). However on ATP the distinction is clearer, their voices working well with the music for whichever song they are singing on (unless, of course, I’ve got them completely wrong which may well be the case so I’m just going to finish that point there. They’re both great, so it doesn’t matter anyway). Another song exploring a different sound is ‘House On Fire’, wailing jangly guitars wrap around the track throughout and if you could see the music it would look like a raging fire.
All the songs fit perfectly together to make a neatly wrapped present of an album, each one a new story that seems so personal yet so distant. ‘Midwestern States’ is particularly great at creating this feeling, sung from the perspective of turning up at your friends house tired and worried about the uncertain future, yet finding solitude and comfort with them, even through the hard times. The final song on the album is a melancholy lament to remembering that sometimes life isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. My personal favourite song on the album by a high degree (I’m talking up there with ‘Sun Hotel’ and ‘Casey’, so that’s pretty up there) is ‘Wild Years’. Barnett’s delivery of the story of the song (clearly a love song but with that classic Menzingers small town twist) is wonderful, pulling you into his story of anxiety for the future, while openly admitting it might all just be in his head. It’s packed with incredible introverted lines (“You’re the kind of girl that deserves the world, I’m just the kind of guy that promises the world”) that work great on paper, and incredibly with Barnett’s voice behind them. The chorus is pure PURE bait for a classic singalong anthem, and I for one cannot wait till the next time I see them live so I can bellow the words back at them.
The Menzingers have come up with a genuinely fantastic fifth effort, dealing with the uncertainties and pitfalls of growing up and growing old. But they needn’t worry, if this is the kind of material they’re producing now (can you imagine what they’ll be like when they hit 80?!). They’re just like a fine wine, only improving with age, and I’m already looking forward to hearing the next chapter of their lives.