It’s the little things my mind commits
to etch behind my eyelids /
Like getting stoned when we wake up,
coffee grounds, and coffee cups /
Your silhouette in high top sneakers
and hardcore from laptop speakers /
The classics to the more obscure,
from Minor Threat to your old roommate’s band /
Like a kaleidoscope in vibrant hues,
I navigate around your tattoos
Said you got that one on a whim when you were breaking up with him /
And that Matryoshka Russian doll
that lines your shelf from big to small /
What a way to start anew,
to shed your skin, and find the old you
If I weren’t rabidly jealous of every single facet of their lives, I would almost feel bad for a band like The Menzingers. To have released a record so universally beloved and celebrated like 2012’s On the Impossible Past that it actually haunts you is a fascinating dilemma to be in. To know you’re great, but wonder if you’ll ever again be that great. Now, I’d like to use these next few sentences to defend their 2014 followup Rented World, but that would be disingenuous. I was just as disappointed as most with its straightforward, electric rock approach. Apart from a few gems, it felt forced, overly structured, and sometimes, even insincere. From what I can glean, its lackluster effect had everything to do with how it was written, or more specifically, how it wasn’t written. Most of On the Impossible Past’s undeniable charm was inextricable from its acoustic roots, and it was immediately evident, if only by juxtaposition, that Rented World was written as a band on electric setups meant for big rooms. Which is fine. It just couldn’t help but lack the intimacy that made On the Impossible Past so special. I think it’s safe to say that most of us were anxious to see what direction The Menzingers were gonna lean for LP5. And then fucking “Lookers” dropped.
If there’s a “perfect” Menzingers song, it’s “Lookers,” and luckily for us, it serves as a blueprint for After the Party as a whole. It’s catchy, nostalgic, rollicking, lyrically brilliant, fun, sweet (in the “Aw, you’re so sweet” way), and most importantly, it reclaims the intimacy Rented World lacked. The “sha-la-la-la” that opens the chorus clues us into the Americana style The Menzingers have tapped into on this record (think Eastern seaboard Americana a la Springsteen or The Gaslight Anthem, not the “down south” kind). As for its composition, After the Party is a delectable blend of both On the Impossible Past and Rented World’s approaches. While “Tellin’ Lies” and “House on Fire” could find a comfortable home on Rented World, “Lookers” and the title track are out and out On the Impossible Past fare.
Lyrically, After the Party isn’t that surprising. And by that, I mean if you’re looking for ingeniously nostalgic and self-deprecating lyrics about lost loves and the disillusionment your late 20s brings (“Where we gonna go now that our 20s are over?”), The Menzingers have come through yet again. Again, “Lookers” is probably our best example with its recurring theme reminding us of the good old days “when we were both lookers,” but it’s verses like this from the could-be hit “Midwestern States” that stand out to me: “Been having problems with our landlord / He said he’s taking us both to court / She got her hours slashed / and my unemployment’s drying up fast / We both got worthless diplomas from worthless universities / Two bachelors in worthless studies / But at least it made our parents happy / and cost a whole lot of money.” I know, right? And while I normally lean more towards Greg Barnett’s songs, Tom May’s offerings on After the Party are the strongest songs he’s ever written (other than “Nice Things,” of course). So strong, in fact, that I think if I were introducing someone to The Menzingers, I would use After the Party even though I think On the Impossible Past is still the be-all Menzingers record.
So there we have it. My hometown heroes are back at the top of their game. After Rented World’s reception, it’s refreshing and almost relieving to see the unanimous love this record is getting. It’s schmaltzy to say, but I feel lucky to have The Menzingers, if for no other reason than to hear a band articulate in song just how brutal it is to drive from Asbury Park, NJ back to Philly after a show. Thanks for that, fellas.