Yet another saturated and exciting musical phase (after what honestly was a pretty dull and modest first month of the new year) approaching yours truly, with new releases planned and expected soon from the likes of Ryan Fu**ing Adams – kind of a big deal because of this, this and even this – and indie rock kings Cold War Kids, as well as brand new music already announced for later on down the year by mighty Blink-182, 30 Seconds to Mars and Linkin Park. It is with such an uplifting and reinvigorated spirit in mind that I’m immensely excited to introduce you all to today’s artist, featured in 2017’s first ARM instalment: meet Pennsylvanian punk-rock minstrels The Menzingers.
After the Party is The Menzingers’ fifth studio album and comes after almost four years of restless touring in promotion of the moderately successful Rented World, released in 2014. This new effort is out on influential and devoted punk-rock Hollywood-based indie label Epitaph Records, founded by legendary Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz more than 30 years ago and that over its history has released major productions by seminal, genre-defining bands such as Pennywise, Social Distortion, Descendents, and, obviously, Bad Religion. It is precisely within such a sonic framework that one should broadly position The Menzingers, as more or less explicit influences of the outfits above and a handful more are easily to be found along the band’s catalogue so far. After the Party, which at time of writing came out officially yesterday, 3rd February, overall delivers a solid, 13-track release cutting at just under 45 minutes of unstriated and uncompromising melodic punk-rock which is overwhelmingly driven by loads, loads of guitars. Personally, it’s been quite some time I hadn’t revisited such a genre – which for me in the past had been taken care by folks like Rancid, The Gaslight Anthem and potentially a bit of Against Me! – and if anything it really felt good immersing myself in such waters again. Yet, even after repetitive listens, the album sort of leaves you a bit dry and longing for something more that was missing once closing track, albeit singularly convincing, “Livin’ Ain’t Easy” calls the curtains.
In fact, I guess the biggest problem of this record is its first half, with unfortunately really only presents the wonderfully composed and melodically rich “House of Fire” at number six for future talks. This is despite side A of the album having included two of the three major singles releases off of After the Party, namely the pretty predictable and over-heard “Thick as Thieves” (number two on the tracklist) and the following, rather dark cut “Lookers”, which despite an interesting and touching intro kind of loses itself one minute into the song and at its best results too self-referential. Furthermore, album-opener “Tellin’ Lies” might even be ok for opening live shows and festival slots but in all frankness is not far from the exact reason why this kind of punk-rock simply got too boring at one point in history. “Midwestern States”, at number four, is certainly a pretty good song on average, though definitely not something to be remembered and quite possibly not one of the songs that will stuck with the listener after the album is over. The following “Charlie’s Army”, instead, is likely to be the worst track on the whole entire record, with not only a slim vocal lead but also heavy, at times disturbing disynchronization between all instruments included. Definitely one that could have been left off the final track listing.
Fortunately, things start to get much better with the album’s middle song “Black Mass”, a sweet semi-acoustic ballad that entails great vocal emotion and superior lyrics (“We used to want to take the back roads / But now we found a distance shorter / You used to call me darling / Now you prefer more formal“). Moreover, at number nine on the tracklist we find “Bad Catholics“, which was released as lead single late last year, arguably a right decision. The track is among the catchiest and radio-friendliest on After the Party and despite a wonderful and tempting main guitar riff doesn’t overstay its welcome and ends up at 2:52, making it the second-shortest song on the whole album. What follows is “Your Wild Years”, which alongside the aforementioned “Black Mass” contains some of the best words on the record highlighting and romanticising multi-ethnical backgrounds in form of an unusual love declaration, possibly more needed now than ever given present political times in the USA. Yet the very best of After the Party is without doubt found in its last two, closing songs “After the Party” and “Livin’ Ain’t Easy”. The former and title-track almost completely reaches songwriting and execution perfection mixing up raw emotion, fuelled guitars and drops of Taking Back Sunday, Bruce Springsteen and Foo Fighters here and there, which made me connect to it in a very intense fashion. Also, the intro guitar riff might be among the best in a good while within the recent punk-rock pantheon. Speaking of guitars, album closer “Livin Ain’t Easy” also decides to deliver chills down the listener’s spine via electric six strings, with its leading guitar lick wrapped up in beautiful reverb and chorus effects probably very reminiscent of last year’s Moose Blood’s Blush. Extremely well done and appropriate closing track.
There’s a lot of regret in me after listening to After the Party as a whole, precisely because of the last two tracks’ beauty and effectiveness. What I mean by that is that if it weren’t for the handful of boring and rather dull songs included in the LP (“Tellin’ Lies”, “Charlie’s Army” and “The Bars” leading the group), this album could’ve been really, really good and (already!) landed straight to this year’s list of best releases. Yes, because there are indeed songs that are truly exceptional (“Black Mass”, “Bad Catholics”, “After the Party” and “Livin’ Ain’t Easy”), and this Menzingers’ effort could have become a classic if, for example, released as an EP with its best of. However, in my opinion there are too many flaws to be acknowledged as such and sadly After the Party really can’t be labelled as more than an average, solid record. Yet, my love for certain, selected tunes might as well be catalysed precisely by those other poorer moments on the record, allowing them shine and emerge in contrast to the remaining ones and with regard to an overall perspective. And I guess this is exactly the splendour and magic of music: hard to explain and different for everyone. So please go on and come persuade me that this album is a masterpiece if you truly believe so, I’d be all ears.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
“AFTER THE PARTY”
2017, Epitaph Records