For Fans Of
There’s a turning point in every twenty-something, young adult’s life – typically one that involves a shit tonne of booze, a mountain of illicit substances, or a cataclysmic relationship misfire – where they take a long, sobering, reflective look at their past, present and potentially dire future. Well, before an inevitable, soul-crushing self-realisation sets in: ‘What the fuck am I doing with my life?’ Sound familiar? Good! Then you’ll probably find a lot to love in ‘After The Party’, the fifth full-length album from Scranton, Pennsylvania punks The Menzingers.
Like a day in the life of a Dunder Mifflin employee, ‘After The Party’ is a roller-coaster ride of human emotion: nostalgia, escapism, love, humour, awkwardness, pain, sadness, cynicism, happiness, and (thankfully) optimism. And when this emotional gamut is propelled along by rich, anthemic, blue-collar punk tunes, it makes for one of the best Menzingers albums yet.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Greg Barnett wastes little time in setting up the band’s thesis statement for ‘After The Party’, as opener ‘Tellin’ Lies’ introduces a catchy refrain of “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” It’s a fun and bouncy track, with plenty of ‘woah-ohs’ and ‘oh yeahs’, that recalls the light-hearted tone of 2014’s ‘Rented World’, allowing Barnett to casually ponder the loss of an entire decade, before ruminating on his future as a dude in his 30’s playing punk songs in a bar band. From here The Menzingers begin to soundtrack this reflective narrative, pulling sounds and textures from across their back catalogue, making ‘After The Party’ both simultaneously a fresh take and a return to form.
‘Thick as Thieves’ finds guitarist and co-vocalist Tom May perfectly matching Barnett’s delivery, with a charging riff that marries every note and pitch, alongside flawless drumming and crashing cymbals from percussionist Joe Godino. Proving that nostalgia is far from a dirty word, The Menzingers travel back in time to classic releases like 2012’s stellar ‘On The Impossible Past’, with pre-release singles like ‘Bad Catholics’ and the phenomenal ‘Lookers’, the latter of which features a goose bump-inducing prelude, gargantuan hook and heart-on-sleeve, Springsteen-like lyricism. When Barnett delivers the simplistic yet effective chorus line, “Sha la la la/Jersey girls are always total heartbreakers/Julie from the Wonder Bar/I still wonder where you are/‘Cause I know the old you/And you know the old me,” it drags the listener back to all those drunken conversations or chance encounters with attractive strangers in the wee hours of morning. And it’s just one of the many infinitely relatable observations in ‘After The Party’ that will worm its way inside your head and stubbornly refuse to vacate the premises.
In terms of sequencing, The Menzingers do an excellent job of spacing out the more sombre and heartfelt moments from their energetic, three-chord ragers, with studio maestro Will Yip’s exemplary production seamlessly capturing and blending the ebb and flow of the album. ‘Black Mass’, ‘The Bars’ and closer ‘Livin’ Ain’t Easy’ all feature slow, moody tempos that seem perfect for dimly lit basements and arm-in-arm, drink-swilling comradery, all highlighting bassist Eric Keen’s meaty, thrumming tones and subtle dashes of organs and keys from May. The band even gets playful on ‘Charlie’s Army’, an upbeat, stop-start, barroom anthem that tells the tale of a doomed love triangle and a vengeful ex. The track’s midsection is a worthy high note, with Barnett proclaiming, “Tell your man I ain’t afraid to die/If loving Julie is a capital crime,” before the band races towards a rousing finale. While it remains unclear if this tangential Juliette is the same dame “from the Wonder Bar” mentioned in ‘Lookers’, songs like ‘House On Fire’ and ‘Boy Blue’ show that The Menzingers have not forgotten their roots, recalling the urgency and intensity that made 2010’s ‘Chamberlain Waits’ so bloody special.
Yet what makes ‘After The Party’ so powerfully resonant isn’t just the moments of wistful nostalgia, it’s the juxtaposition of permanence and escapism found in Barnett’s lyricism. Whether it’s the nod to characters like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in ‘Lookers’, or putting it all on black in Vegas during ‘Tellin’ Lies’, Barnett makes it clear that no matter how set in stone and fatefully determined your life may seem at the wise, old age of twenty-something, escape is always an option and choices come with inherent risks. It’s an optimistic tone and a strong message that’s driven home superbly in ‘Midwestern States’, where Barnett’s (fictional?) couple reflect on their pointless education (“We’ve both got worthless diplomas, from worthless universities/Two bachelors in worthless studies, but at least it made our parents happy/And cost a whole lot of money”), the potential of reckless abandon (“You said LA’s only two days if we drive straight”), and a final acceptance that borders on defiance (“Not perfect but we’re good together/Yeah, me, you, and our bad tattoos/We’ll regret them when we’re dead and sober/But we’re still breathing and the party ain’t over”).
However, fans looking for those classic Menzingers bangers that are sure to become live set staples and bona fide anthems, will not be disappointed either. ‘Your Wild Years’ sports one of the best melodies the band has ever written, with a charging third verse and great backing vocals that accentuate a truly knockout chorus that laments the loss of someone young, wild and free: “A little Irish in your blood/A little Polish in your name/A little Boston in your attitude/Just the way you were raised.” But it’s the album’s title track that really steals the show with a powerhouse, punk rock performance that will go down as one of the definitive tracks from the band’s eleven-year career. Described by Barnett as the “central, emotional epiphany of the album,” his conception of burgeoning adulthood is contextualised as a Russian Matryoshka doll at a poignant moment towards the end of the track’s first verse (“What a way to start anew/To shed your skin and find the old you”), right before the chorus arrives to succinctly describe the entirety of ‘After The Party’s thirteen tracks in just 60 memorable words: “Everybody wants to get famous/But you just want to dance in a basement/You don’t care if anyone is watching/Just as long as you stay in motion/We put miles on these old jean jackets/Got caught up in the drunk conversations/But after the party, it’s me and you/After the party, it’s me and you.”
In a statement with Stereogum, Barnett talks about the writing process behind the album, saying: “Vladimir Nabokov once said in an interview: ‘I don’t think in language. I think in images.’ I wanted to play off that idea, and use imagery as unexciting as the sludge in the bottom of a coffee cup to tell a bigger story. In doing so, it captured the excitement of falling in love that language often misses. Turns out my twenties can be summed up quite similarly.” And much to Barnett’s credit, that’s exactly what The Menzingers have achieved with ‘After The Party’: a catchy, punk-rock tapestry of “vibrant hues and subtle brush strokes of memory.” Their fifth album finds them displaying a respectful admiration for their own back catalogue (which fans know and love), while also understanding the need to evolve as time barrels eternally forward.
After all, true personal growth is a journey of discovery and shifting perspectives. ‘After The Party’ is a perfect example of maturation without gross experimentation, where every little detail – from the rich instrumentation to the earnest lyricism – feels natural and wholesome, like you’ve already listened to, and thoroughly enjoyed, this record for your entire life. Just like Barnett said, “We’re still breathing and the party ain’t over.”
- Tellin’ Lies
- Thick as Thieves
- Midwestern States
- Charlie’s Army
- House on Fire
- Black Mass
- Boy Blue
- Bad Catholics
- Your Wild Years
- The Bars
- After the Party
- Livin’ Ain’t Easy
‘After The Party’ is available February 3rd through Epitaph Records/Warner. Get the record here and enjoy your youth while you still can. In support of their new album, The Menzingers are also touring Australia on select dates this month, and you can still find tickets for the Brisbane & Sydney shows here.
XIII TOURING, SECRET SOUNDS and BOMBSHELLZINE PRESENT:
Feb 9th – The Reverence Hotel, Footscray [18+] SOLD OUT
Feb 10th – The Reverence Hotel, Footscray [18+] SOLD OUT
Feb 11th – Crowbar, Brisbane [18+]
Feb 12th – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney [18+]