“After the Party” Keeps the Menzingers Barstool Warm for Another Round
The landscape of punk rock has altered drastically over the past decade. It’s hard to believe that in the mid-00s, the Vans Warped Tour was revered as the eminent music festival for punk rock, overshadowing Gainesville’s still nascent Fest. Since their 2007 debut, the Menzingers have remained resolute as an independently driven punk staple. Their newest effort, After the Party, is their third album for indie powerhouse, Epitaph Records; a label that has enabled the band freedom from compromising their grounded punk sound and image rooted in blue jeans, t-shirts, and loud, distorted power chords.
After the Party finds the Pennsylvania quartet premature veterans of their craft, evidenced on the album’s opener, “20’s (Tellin Lies).” “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over…When you gonna quit this nonsense?/Everyone’s asking me over and over,” cries singer/guitarist, Greg Barnett, over a catchy two chord chorus resembling a cut from the Ramones Rocket to Russia. This kick-start of catchy songwriting demonstrates the band’s mastery of melody, finding Barnett and company at the apex of their artistic ability. The lyrics juxtapose this accomplishment, reminding how age is a sneaky and incriminating factor demanding adherence to conservative proclivities in one’s thirties and onward, a lifestyle that does not necessarily permit touring in a punk band.
Age is explored thoroughly on After the Party and is more apparent than on the band’s past records. “We were both lookers, in a 5 by 8 black and white/On the nightstand of my mind, from a time I hardly recognize,” Barnett soliloquizes in the bridge of Springsteen-influenced rocker, “Lookers.” Amidst nostalgia and convictions reflecting maturity, there’s respectability in refusing to change or adapt to an uncomfortable lifestyle and compromise established personal principles. “What a way to start anew, to shed your skin and find the old new,” the narrator remarks in the first verse of the title track, sonically reminiscent of 2010’s Chamberlain Waits. The aphorism echoes into the chorus lyric, “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,” delivered with signature Menzinger guttural urgency.
Other themes cascade these thirteen tracks including religious institutions in the thoughtful acoustic number, “Black Mass,” and pop punk driven, “Bad Catholics.” The trials and routine of touring are touched upon in the melodic environs of “Midwestern States.” “We can sleep on the couch, we can sleep on the floor/We will leave before you even notice we were here, even notice us at all.” “Bars” explores the politics of barroom boredom, drawing similarities to the Replacement’s melancholic barfly ballad, “Here Comes a Regular,” with the chorus hook, “Why do some people make you nervous and others drive you to drink?”
Relationships, a recurring topic in the Menzinger canon, are pondered heavily within the record’s narrative, specifically in the context of what the future holds. Tying into the idea of age and its consequential responsibilities, Barnett sings, “I toss and turn at four in the morning, petrified of where our future is going,” in “Wings (Your Wild Years).” This foreboding fear materializes in the closing track, “Livin’ Ain’t Easy.” “Our home stands tall before that foreclosure sign/Everything in boxes from another lifetime,” followed by Barnett’s lament in the bridge, “Oh you know it breaks my heart/Watching your whole life fall apart.” “Livin’ Ain’t Easy,” manages to navigate a transient lifestyle while attempting to block out the mistakes that lead to the narrator’s present predicament, indicated in the second verse, “This little motel room I-80 west of nowhere/I’ll count the stars you’ll never know where you are.”
On their fifth record, The Menzingers demonstrate their impressive capabilities in crafting melodic three chord punk rock. With more polished production than past releases, the grit in After the Party exists in its deeply personal and self-exposing lyrics. More than a few miles into their career, the Menzingers find themselves in the throes of early middle age following their brazen, beer quenching twenties. After the Party signifies the end of an era for these young veterans, but its heavy-hitting punk anthems suggest the party still has a lot of life in it as long as the Menzingers are breathing. Crack a beer and stay a while, the night’s still young.
After The Party will be released on February 3rd. It’s not too late to pre-order your copy of the record here.