The Menzingers, “After the Party”
After the Party
Pennsylvania punks The Menzingers have always had a penchant for nostalgia—over the course of their first four albums, their roughshod but anthemic punk rock was riddled with a melancholy longing for the way things had once been. Those sentiments, though, were always accompanied by the reckless decadence and defiance of youth, and a cloudy haze of booze, cigarettes, drugs, late nights, and good times. That cloud of hedonism obscured, to some extent, the emotional and existential lacunae lurking beneath the gritty guitars and guttural vocals of singers/songwriters Greg Barnett and Tom May, suggesting that the close friendships, great loves, and good times they sang about losing weren’t entirely out of reach just yet. “I only want to relive what was lost,” pleaded Barnett on “Time Tables” from 2010’s Chamberlain Waits, and it sounded and felt like that was possible—that their steps could be not only retraced, but also regained; there was still a fire in their bellies. That’s something they especially proved with the all-encompassing power of 2012’s On the Impossible Past—a masterpiece that transcended genres and addressed the idea of the American Dream in all its faded glory, on both personal and universal levels.
That was then, though. Now, the four members have all hit their thirties, and their new album After the Party confronts that reality and all the realizations that come along with it. These thirteen songs are less about recapturing the past than about acknowledging that it’s gone, and gone for good. All those things that kept them—and their past—alive have suddenly vanished. That’s something addressed by the chugging gruff-punk of opener “Tellin’ Lies,” which admits the old joys don’t quite provide the solace they once did. “Lookers” recalls the past but stays firmly in it without trying to drag it into the present, while “House on Fire” and “Boy Blue” defy the reality of growing older with their bristling energy, but at the same time readily accept that it can’t be changed. Elsewhere, the poetic romanticism of “Your Wild Years” is a poignant reminder that as much as we move on, the past will always be with us. Later, there’s the title track’s rush of vivid imagery, each one a memory brought to life but then swiftly laid to rest beneath a torrent of guitars.
Despite its thematic cohesion and its solid, powerful execution, it feels like After the Party is missing something, albeit something intangible and unqualifiable. Perhaps it’s just the youth that The Menzingers are mourning throughout, or the hangover, or the comedown, or the existential dread of the morning after the night before. But that’s also something of a cop-out explanation, because it’s more than that—something within the fabric and the makeup of these songs makes them ever so slightly less visceral, raw, and real than what’s come before. Nevertheless, it’s still an often beautiful, often powerful, and always heartfelt album.