The Menzingers

After The Party

Written by: TL on 18/03/2017 16:40:32

"Where are we gonna' go?" sing The Menzingers in the chorus to "Tellin' Lies", the opening song on the new album "After The Party", and while the lyrics continue with "when our twenties are over" - hinting the lyrical themes of the album ahead - the question listening to "After The Party" isn't really as much where The Menzingers are going in life, but more where they're going as a band. Because where do you go, when you've blown up like few punk rock bands manage and already released an album that's considered a household release in the genre that will be talked about for years to come?

The answer here on the second successive album after it, seems to be "not too far from there", for while there are signs in the brightness of some of the tones, and the size of some of the riffs, and the clarity of the production, that The Menzingers are playing to bigger audiences, their songwriting is still punk-rock in the way it gets to the point. Like a mixture of Social Distortion and The Clash (seriously, listen to "Thick As Thieves" or "Charlie's Army" and then say you're not thinking of "I Fought The Law") with Kerouac-inspired (he's even referenced in "Lookers") lyricism, might have all the dusty romanticism in their sound, of a great American heartland rock band, but the band stops short of ever going full Bruce Springsteen.

This can seem strange because especially on the new album's first half, the capacity to write melodies and refrains that could shoulder some more elaborate arrangements of that kind of grandeur is rampantly on display. For seven subsequent tracks, you're likely to wonder if the band has written another "On The Impossible Past" because there's just not a dud in sight. "Tellin' Lies" pulls a twist to die for near its end already at track one, descending from reeling rant to a yearning tugging at the heartstrings, while "Thick As Thieves" hides a signature riff in the bridge between chorus and verse that the band could've easily entered arenas or stadiums to had they opened with it. "Lookers" almost makes you sad that it ramps up in tempo after the balladic intro, while "Midwestern States" provides an updated ode to the timeless American dream of heading west, while providing glimpses both into the humble life of a travelling band and the restlessness and sense of removal from a place to belong that characterises the album.

Then there's "Charlie's Army" and its reckless Romeo And Juliet romanticism wrapped in that aforementioned "I Fought The Law"-ish guitar ring, which will have you singing its refrain in under a second. There's "House On Fire" and its guitar wailing with sheer nostalgia, and then finally there's "Black Mass" giving an actual change of pace with half time frontman Greg Barnett letting his - softer of the band's two lead vocals - woo you at a more gently rollicking tempo for a couple of minutes.

Truly The Menzingers are in strong form on the album, yet there are a couple of sub-par tracks sticking out, specifically "Boy Blue" and "The Bars", in which the risk of making so few changes to the band's sound is more apparent. Overall the second half of the album, which "Boy Blue" sort of unfortunately instigates, actually does have more than enough hooks to bring the whole thing home - "Your Wild Years" and it's ode of adoration to a feisty woman being a clear highlight. Yet to take a critical view, as the album runs out, it's also clear that while it is very good - extremely likely even, to be sung at the top of many sets of lungs with adoration at coming live sets - it doesn't quite raise the bar for the band, it simply meets it. There's not quite the sense of a cohesive journey through atmospheres, as much as one of a hit parade, despite the album opening with that confused "Where we gonna go?" and closing with the older, wiser and more accepting "Only a fool would think living would be easy", and there's not really that sense of identity to mark it as a distinct milestone in the band's career.

Not that any of that truly matters for any purpose other than nitpicking discussion of course, because how often do you get a good sound like this with so many songs you just can't wait to hear live? About as rarely as you get an album worth this grade, and that's not often enough:

Download: Tellin' Lies, Midwestern States, Charlie's Army, Your Wild Years
For The Fans Of: The Gaslight Anthem, Carpenter, Spanish Love Songs, Red City Radio
Listen: facebook.com/themenzingers

Release date 03.02.2017
Epitaph Records

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