Album Review: ‘After the Party’
Pennsylvania-based punk rock band The Menzingers released its fifth studio album “After the Party” on Friday. (Epitaph Records)
By Erin Nyren
February 4, 2017 1:47 pm
It’s a bit difficult to relate precisely to the nostalgia-soaked depiction of middle age that The Menzingers presents on its latest album “After the Party” as a 20-something – after all, the party of my twenties hasn’t ended yet.
But the Pennsylvania-based band is adept enough at pairing sing-along-able lyrics with driving guitar rhythms to make me feel like I’m looking back on my glory days with them.
And with many millennials perhaps feeling world-weary beyond their years as of late, it’s easy for young people to muse wistfully over their childhoods. The Menzingers’ new album gives a preview of the discontented future that many millennials could end up facing, but still laces enough hope throughout the tracks to make the album triumphant.
The first track “Tellin’ Lies” sets the tone of the album – raunchy and swaggering. Lead singer Greg Barnett’s voice grates over, “Oh yeah oh yeah / Everything is terrible / Buying marijuana makes you feel like a criminal,” setting up the recurring Menzingers theme of coating sincerity and real consternation with a veneer of bravado and blue-collar banality.
By using such broad generalizations as “everything is terrible” and referring to marijuana as a young man’s game, Barnett creates a self-mocking tone that hides the deeper discomfort that comes with aging, a sentiment artists and fans are hesitant to address.
“Sha la la la Jersey girls are always total heartbreakers,” on the track “Lookers” presents seemingly concrete lyrics. But the tone of the rest of “Lookers” – and particularly the wistful, distant guitar vamp at the beginning – belies a true yearning to connect with the past, similarly to the rest of the album.
With a track list strewn with titles like “Your Wild Years” and “Thick as Thieves,” it’s no surprise the album feels like a collection of specific memories, a scrapbook, with each new song like the turning of a page.
“Lookers” and “Bad Catholics,” the first and second singles off the album, both describe scenes that could be from a prodigal son-centric movie.
“Lookers” calls to mind a protagonist examining old photos and reminiscing on “the way (his) body used to behave.”
“Bad Catholics” features a run-in with a now-upstanding ex that causes the protagonist to reflect bitterly on the shenanigans of their youth, sneeringly describing her new husband as “whats-his-name.”
The vivid imagery highlights one of The Menzingers’ best qualities – the music’s ability to conjure up the scenes the band intends, generally featuring alcohol, women and killing time with mundane activities around town.
Their previous work, particularly 2012’s “On the Impossible Past,” also carries this ability. “Casey” describes getting high before doing the dishes, and both “Good Things” and the titular track “On the Impossible Past” reference riding around town in muscle cars.
The isolated, slow-paced intro riff of “The Bars” sounds like an electrified sea shanty or drinking song, like at the end of a night when the lights in the bar come on and the patrons shuffle home. No women in tottery heels and shiny dresses are seen at these bars, though. Instead, the song describes the dive bars of small towns or back alleys, where the patrons in Carhartt coats can still walk straight after five beers.
But “After the Party” still teeters on the edge of falling into the eternal plague of punk rock – repetition. Many of the middle tracks sound similar. However, by exploring themes such as uncertainty and inserting references that seem more optimistic such as “But we’re still breathing and the party ain’t over,” the band circumvents the trap of repetition and provides a more comprehensive work.
On “Midwestern States,” Barnett sings of the tribulations that come with “worthless diplomas from worthless universities” while describing a couple staying with friends after uncertain job prospects.
But as despondent as some of the tracks seem, the titular track “After the Party,” concludes with a sense of contentment with the band members’ place in life. Their determination to make the best of middle age comes through with lyrics like, “But after the party / It’s me and you.”
True to the genre, the band doesn’t exhibit many shredding guitar solos or devilishly complex chord progressions, but that’s where the beauty lies. Even without high levels of sophistication, the band is still able to kindle impressive emotion and imagery.
By capitalizing on its storytelling ability and matching surprisingly poignant lyrics with catchy guitar chords, the band delivers an album anyone can relate to, whether they’re 40-somethings or teenagers.
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