The Menzingers – ‘After The Party’

By Matthew Wilson

“I was there when the wall came down, I’ll be there when the ocean rises,” howls Greg Barnett midway through ‘Thick As Thieves’, prophesying the end of the world over a gnarly riff. We’re only two songs into ‘After The Party’, and hell yeah, the hangover is real. After the seminal nostalgic anthem-packed ‘On The Impossible Past’ and the more subdued maturation in ‘Rented World’, Philadelphia’s finest are back with an album that’s guaranteed to launch itself straight into best-of lists everywhere, with enough staying power to remain there until the end of the year. Or the world, whichever comes first.

And based on their moodiness, it’s not too ludicrous to claim that The Menzingers are already building their bunker. Always adept at mixing melancholy with huge choruses and gnarly riffs, there’s a new element injected into The Menzinger’s thematic pallet, a subdued apocalyptic hum that adds urgency to their message, boiling over on occasion. Even passionately romantic single ‘Lookers’ carries threatening undertones in Barnett’s snarl of “I know the old you, and you know the old me”, mutually assured melancholic destruction of a “teenage memory, I’ll hold to eternity”, whilst ‘Charlie’s Army’ is built around the hook of “I aint afraid to die, if loving Julie is a capital crime”. The lines between life, love and death are blurred amidst a rock-and-roll Ragnarok.

The Menzingers have always loved the deep drama that nostalgia, real and imagined, dredge up. But as maturation and nostalgia mix with an increasingly hostile world, it creates a violent Molotov cocktail that torches the entire scene. The opening chorus of the album in ‘Tellin’ Lies’ is fittingly “where we gonna go when our twenties are over?”, as the foundations of being in a band get eroded by the responsibilities of adulthood, like “a wedding ring that won’t fit right”, the song evolving into an extended downbeat melancholic coda. It’s a musical theme that reappears in the down-tempo ‘Black Mass’, musing over memories of late night romances and wondering “do you really wanna throw it away?”

It’s testament to The Menzinger’s musicianship that they’re able to encompass stadium-sized anthems, downbeat ballads and folksy Americana wistfulness immediately. How do you reconcile your heartland rock in a country that is actively choosing to engage in self-sabotage? That’s the problem posed in ‘Midwestern States’, a drive-by in flyover country, where Barnett can’t get himself and his girl out of this wilderness fast enough, driving onwards to Chicago, out of the middle of a country that seems foreign to themselves.

And as for the party? The ‘party,’ this thing, this event that everyone is waking up to, permeates throughout the entire album, something indistinguishable that has been irrevocably lost. Over the course of 13 songs it reappears; whether it’s explicit, like the wide-reaching ambitious title track that decries aspirational culture, or the implied limbo of ‘The Bars’ as the watering holes wind down. Whilst there’s some songs on here that aren’t doom and gloom, like the subversive smirk that lights up ‘Bad Catholics’, it’s hard not to see ‘After The Party’ as a eulogy to both youth and worldwide innocence.

But there’s still hope to be found in our communities. We are taking teetering steps into our brave new world, but The Menzingers offer us comfort in the human connection this album embraces. “Everybody wants to get famous”, croons Barnett on the title track, “but you just want to dance in a basement.” ‘After The Party’ is a triumph of human emotions, the hangover headache of loss, sorrow and fear mixed in with those new dawn sunrises of hope, human connections and the passion that music can bring.

MATTHEW WILSON

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