ALBUM REVIEW: The Menzingers – ‘After the Party’

Posted: by The Editor

The menzingers

The Menzingers are essentially rock music’s version of director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “Boyhood,” and most recently, “Everybody Wants Some!!”). Both artists have a penchant for romanticizing their respective adolescent experiences and presenting those years through a warm, fuzzy lens that somehow removes from focus any of the times that weren’t spent drinking, smoking, flirting, and carelessly freewheeling through life. Or if they do mention a conflict, it’s one that now seems trivial to them; as their one true heartbreak is the thought that those times left them long ago and they’ll never get them back.

Obviously this isn’t a viewpoint unique to Linklater and The Menzingers. Most humans warp their memories over time and eventually forget the unfavorable occasions, instead choosing to reminisce upon their youth as solely the good years—the “wild years,” as The Menzingers put it. Linklater’s latest film “Everybody Wants Some!!” consists of a similar plotline to his masterpiece “Dazed and Confused.” It follows the maturation of a group of kids over a short weekend of partying, slacking off, and general debauchery; ultimately conveying a grand statement about adulthood and “figuring it all out.” Except in classic Linklater-ian fashion, the characters “figure out” that such a notion is an impossible task and that everyone’s just as confused and ill-prepared as they are.

The movie’s great. It’s fun, its characters are acutely personable and lifelike, and like “Dazed and Confused,” it encourages you to romanticize and reflect upon your own days of yore. However, it pulled from the same deck that made “Dazed” and “Boyhood” so profoundly spectacular, except it didn’t shuffle the cards. At points, the characters feel almost a little too saccharine; the girls a little too beautiful; and the parties a little too extravagant to really possess the charming, almost believable embellishments of “Dazed” and “Boyhood.” It wasn’t that the film wasn’t enjoyable, it just felt like Linklater was refurnishing his favorite tropes and attempting to deliver them as something new; whereas it would’ve been more beneficial to let them rust naturally and build an entirely new structure from scratch.

On their fifth full-length After the Party, The Menzingers pulled a Linklater. Although it’s unfair to entirely dismiss the Scranton, Pennsylvania quartet’s first two records (critics do this all the time, though), for comparison’s sake, 2012’s On the Impossible Past and 2014’s Rented World are the two worthy predecessors. The former was their first release through Epitaph Records and is considered by fans and critics alike to be their magnum opus. The record is a retrospective thinker’s wet dream, as it poetically narrates entering adulthood and sifting through quarter-life regrets in an age where the American dream no longer exists. Rented World followed with mixed reviews, though it undeniably saw the band expand their songwriting abilities with slower burning, painfully emotional tracks like “Transient Love” and “Where Your Heartache Exists.”

Although it doesn’t fit into the same timeline given that Linklater made handfuls of films between the two, in many ways “Boyhood” felt like a sequel, or perhaps a prequel, to the emotions tackled in “Dazed.” The difference was that “Boyhood” took a more realistic approach, as it detailed a series of extremely uncomfortable events throughout the protagonist’s life that contributed to the tangibility of the characters and a clear indication of growth by Linklater. If you look at “Everybody Wants Some!!” as the third installment to this evaluation of the youth of the white, American, middle class male (it must be noted that neither of these artists attempt to place themselves outside of their own social identities), then you would figure Linklater would continue to pragmatically develop his storyline.

You would think The Menzingers would do the same. However, After The Party encompasses all of the traits—translated into their musical counterparts—that the Linklater film does. It’s got vocal melodies and riffs that’re memorable; it’s got lyrics that teem with nostalgia and paint poignant, vivid images that sink in like stories told by a dear friend; and it’s got the Zingers’ signature stamp all over it—no track could possibly be mistaken for another band. All of those things are both the record’s greatest strengths and its greatest weaknesses.

Yes, this is an objectively good, even great, Menzingers album that nods to On the Impossible Past while also transitioning their narratives into leaving their twenties, rather than desperately clinging to the decade’s final years. However, hearing the band sing about driving around while under the influence in “Bad Catholics” doesn’t leave nearly the impact that it did on OTIP’s title track.  Nor does the now-clichéd description of a smoke-filled room of inebriates on “House On Fire” that was so effortlessly weaved into many of the tracks on OTIP, as well as the incredible “Nothing Feels Good Anymore” on Rented World. In fact, the band take it far enough on After The Party’s title track to actually belt their genre’s mantra (sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll) in an admittedly fun yet overindulgent and corny attempt at a twenty-something battle cry. Again, none of these themes are bad, they’re just not anything the band hasn’t already done previously—and arguably better.

Musically, the record lacks the progress and risks that they took on their last two albums as well. OTIP was an enormous transformation from the raw, fast, and aggressive nature of A Lesson In The Abuse of Information Technology and the slightly more refined Chamberlain Waits. Rented World’s development was less stark, but a development nonetheless. Most of the tracks on After the Party feel like more polished, simplified versions of standard-paced, at this point typical Menzingers cuts. There’re very few dynamic changeups on here—aside from the folky “Black Mass” and the swaying “The Bars”—and the only real risk they take is the second track, “Thick As Thieves,” that’s centered around a massive, 80s-esque riff and pounding drums that unfortunately evoke Journey, Bruce Springsteen, and other dated influences that make this song completely unnecessary and distracting from the rest of the tracklist.

However, there are a healthy amount of great moments on here too. The intro “Tellin’ Lies” explodes forward with the vigor of their hit “The Obituaries” and contains one of the album’s most effective choruses; the spitfire repetition of “where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” is instantaneously catchy and a great setup to the album’s theme. “Lookers,” aside from a cloying Jack Keroac reference, thankfully saves the first half of the record from “Thick As Thieves” and is followed by one of the standouts, “Midwestern States.” The song uses the Midwest as a metaphor for the unexciting working years that’re becoming the band’s reality; but they’re still grasping at the short, weekend-long escapes they can take to metropolises like L.A., Denver, and Chicago where they can briefly throw it back to their twenties.

“Your Wild Years,” “After the Party,” “Bad Catholics,” and “Livin’ Ain’t Easy” are all rambunctious, definitively Zingers’-y displays of veteran punk prowess. However, this band always buries a gem in the backend of their records (“I Can’t Seem to Tell” and “In Remission” on OTIP and Rented, respectively) and “The Bars” holds that position on this one. The song begins with a twangy guitar arpeggio and a lurching rhythm that unexpectedly speeds up to doubletime halfway through and concludes with meaty power chords, a reprise of the lead riff, and a gargling, impassioned vocal performance. Clearly this band still knows how to write a damn fine rock song, which is why it’s so disappointing when they skimp out.

As Dan Ozzi of Noisey wrote earlier this week, it’s got to be difficult for The Menzingers to ever outdo an album as brilliant as OTIP. An album that resonates so powerfully with both fans and the music press is sort of like lightning in a bottle for an artist. Nevertheless, many of the tracks on Rented World and this record are clear indications that The Menzingers aren’t a washed up, one-album-wonder band, which is why they deserve to be held to a high standard. Richard Linklater is still a fantastic director—certainly a better director than he was when he made “Dazed” over twenty years ago—but each one of his films will always be compared to that masterpiece from early in his career.

After The Party is a solid album. However, if The Menzingers are ever going to outdo themselves, they’re going to have to remove themselves from the party scene altogether.

Score: 7.5/10

Eli Enis | @eli_enis