After The Party
Philadelphia rough-punks The Menzingers arguably stumbled in their follow-up to their genre defining punk rock pinnacle, On The Impossible Past. Perhaps it was nerves, or just wanting to try something new, but Rented World lacked the same double header of spontaneity and sophistication, instead coming across somewhat muted. A valiant effort, but one that came up short. Now on their fifth studio full length, After The Party, the band attempts to clarify the direction they set out to achieve on Rented World. Time seems to have been on the quartet’s side, as on this renewed attempt the band seems more in tune with their intent, and grown into their age.
First things first though, After The Party is not an explosive showcase circa On The Impossible Past. Rather, it’s evidence of a punk troupe settling into a more sustainable mid-career sound. Comparisons have been made to bands settling into themselves – like Title Fight and Gaslight Anthem. It’s hard to disagree. While a punk band grappling with entering their collective thirties is no revelation, the band approaches the topic with tongue-in-cheek tact. Opening with “20’s (Telling Lies),” The Menzingers formally close out their twenties and turn to making meaning out of the next decade. “Everyone keeps asking me, what are you going to do now that your twenties are over,” Greg Barnett questions after rattling off lyrics about loose lips and late night dives. The track closes out on a quiet note, with the band taking a somber look at their future amidst a dampening backdrop. What follows is a collection of opportunities and ideas, like fleeing from “midwestern states” in a track of the same title, getting caught in the crosshairs of a love-interest’s ex (“Charlie’s Army”), or hiding one’s transgressions behind a family name and religious affiliation (“Bad Catholics”). The Menzingers may frame After The Party with a single question, but they respond with a myriad of possibilities.
While The Menzingers may be leaving some of the zestful, youthful energy in the past, they remain every bit as capable of turning out chorus after chorus of catchy, ear-grabbing melody. Sure, the average track is safer than past works, and Barnett doesn’t belt in angst as he did a decade ago (nor does Tom May blast his vocal chords as often as in the past), but the band’s passion and lyrics still land naturally. “A little Irish in your blood, a little Polish in your name, a little Boston in your attitude, just the way you were raised,” sings Barnett on “Wings (Your Wild Years)” with a seasoned combination of entangled clean and throaty vocal calls. His veteran cries run deep, with his clean vocals continuing to deeply impress for a guy with such a ragged set of pipes. By and large, Barnett aligns his style with each track’s instrumental focus. From mid-tempo toe-tappers (“House On Fire”), to embery slow burners (“Bars”), and quick pumping pulsers (“Cemetary’s Garden”), The Menzingers thoughtfully connect to each track.
There will be some people that continue to mourn what The Menzingers have since left behind. But they are the same people that refuse to give up their twenties and would be well advised to listen closely to After The Party. The worst that can be said of After The Party is perhaps that some of the songs feel comparatively “safe.” But unlike complaints about Rented World’s toothless warbling, After The Party frames this comparative difference with lyrical and emotional warmth. As The Menzingers make clear, growing old doesn’t necessarily mean growing up, even if you endure some inevitable maturation. Or in reference to the title, life goes on – even after the party.