It’s been about 9 months since I graduated from college. It may sound cynical, but I already feel old. I can’t run on four hours of sleep or drink excessively without an unbearable hangover, and I tend to spend a little extra money on quality products instead of just getting the cheapest version. I’ve also grown an appreciation for a bunch of dad rock records that I hadn’t previously enjoyed. There’s certainly a give and take to my old man feelings. The Menzingers’ After the Party
has been released at the perfect time now with the band’s new found maturity and nostalgia.
The Menzingers are part of a long tradition of punk bands that keep their heartland rock influence on their sleeves. On the Impossible Past was a record that occupied a Venn Diagram space reserved for the likes of The Gaslight Anthem. It is an essential modern pop-punk record that draws equally from the canons of Springsteen and Against Me! Still, the band stepped more in a straightforward pop-punk direction for 2014’s Rented World, but on After the Party, the Scranton quartet show a revitalized interest in classic rock.
Despite The Menzingers taking a step toward their roots, it isn’t always an obvious regression. The Springsteen-isms aren’t always prevalent, and takes such as “Lookers” or “Thick as Thieves” seem to look more towards different flavors of rock. “Thieves” feels more like heartland rock, but the intro screams AC/DC. “Lookers” looks back to the likes of the Four Seasons and Elvis complete with it’s “Sha-La-La-La” chorus. Vocalist, Greg Barnett even referenced Meat Loaf when describing the title track
. Still, for those that are dying to hear some heartland rock, “Your Wild Years” and “Tellin’ Lies” both capture the essence of Springsteen or The Gaslight Anthem. Barnett even adopts a bit of a country twang in his voice in bluesier numbers like “The Bars” and “Black Mass.” Still, there’s plenty of straightforward punk, if A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology
was more your speed. “Bad Catholics” and “Charlie’s Army” are ripping punk tunes with similar themes. Even the songs that sound more like classic rock, like “Midwestern States” or “Lookers,” have the same pedal-to-the-metal, American muscle car pacing as earlier Menzingers tunes.
Above all, After the Party is a record about coming to terms with growing up. This is perhaps best illustrated in “Midwestern States,” which illustrates a young couple through financial problems and dreams of escapism. Even as things get bad, and they’re asking friends for a place to stay (“I hope this isn’t a burden/Thanks for having us over”), there is some hope during the chorus as Barnett sings “You said LA’s only two days if we drive straight.” Even the opening chorus of “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over,” is sung with such gusto and enthusiasm that it sounds more like a celebration rather than a death sentence. The closing track echoes the same sort of sentiment with a chorus of “Only a fool would think that living could be easy,” where Barnett sounds pleased with the final line “The life I’ve painted, I’ve sold for a quick twenty.”
Both positive and negative nostalgia run throughout the album. There’s always a fondness for the past perhaps best described during “Lookers:” “I was such a looker in the old days.” Songs like “Bad Catholics” recall the sweetness of being a problematic kid: drunk driving and skipping mass, and the feeling of seeing your old fling from the church picnic years later: you realize that you really miss those stupid, old times. Even “Charlie’s Army” sounds like he’s triumphantly recalling a past sexual romp over beers with some new friends. “Your Wild Years” is probably the closes the Menzingers have come to writing a true love song, and Barnett thinks back to driving home after shows and family vacations with his girlfriend, but there’s still a tinge of guilt:
You’re the kind of girl that deserves the world
I’m just the kind of guy that promises the world
So I fix a drink nice and strong in the kitchen
Something quick that’ll cure my conscience
Creep back to bed and I kiss your forehead
Maybe everything is fine and it’s all in my head
Even a song like “The Bars” is framed like the kind of bar song to throw your arm around a buddy singing about the old times even though it’s a much sadder song.
The sad nostalgia certainly ought to be familiar for any Menzingers fan: booze soaked heartbreak and regret. “The Bars” shows this well with lines like
No good’ll come from stumbling home with the sun.
I used to care.
Now I stare into the sunken eyes and strangers’ faces.
I fall asleep in the strangest places.
What the hell am I doing?
Where have my friends gone?
Even though the Menzingers are still “Drinking like they do in novels,” it now comes with a bit more pain than before. The pain peeks its head into the bangers like “Tellin’ Lies” or “Bad Catholics,” but After the Party is never depressing for long. You’re going to get old, and you’ll wish for simpler times. Living might not be easy, but you just gotta enjoy the ride.