Album Review: The Menzingers Grapples with What Comes After the Party

Grappling with the notion of aging and what it brings is a tale as old as, well, time. Music acts as a close friend during the struggle to find your place as you grow up and your circumstances change.

For punks who came of age in the 2000’s, the pubescent punk rock of bands like Say Anything and Blink-182 got us through high school and college. But what comes after that for those awkward years of young adulthood? When your school-age years are over and the world begins to expect more from you as a friend, a lover, and even a taxpayer?

This is exactly what The Menzingers confront on their 5th LP After the Party. It’s clear right from the chorus of the album’s first track “Tellin’ Lies” with guitarist and vocalist Greg Barnett – one half of the group’s songwriting duo – repeatedly questioning over thick rock riffs, “Where we gonna go / when our twenties are over?” and on the album’s title track when we are inevitably faced with reality even after the best parties.

The feeling of uncertainty that comes with growing older does not dissipate as the album moves forward. On “Your Wild Years,” the most personal and romantic song the band has written to date, Barnett worries about being a good enough partner, while on “Midwestern States,” he sings of a couple of college graduates struggling to pay the bills due to un(der)employment that is an all-too-common reality for the most recent generation of college grads:

“She got her hours slashed
And my unemployments drying out fast
We’ve both got worthless diplomas from worthless universities
Two Bachelors’ in worthless studies
But at least it made our parents happy
And cost a whole lotta money”

The Menzingers have always had a penchant for sincere sing-song punk rock anthems, and while this is still the case, the songwriting on After the Party is more intricate and advanced than on previous efforts. Using introspective, Springsteen (and Fallon)-esque imagery Barnett and May craft powerfully personal stories that are as relatable and moving. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived moments on this record – I’ve been in the “Turkey Hill on the main ave in West Side” and I’ve prayed “Hail Mary’s as an escape route” at the site of lights in the rearview – but every note of this record conjures deep nostalgia.

After the Party is as expansive as it is true to the Menzingers’ punk roots. Sonically, the band traded in the quiet brooding that characterized much of 2014’s Rented World for the boisterous hooks more typical of The Menzingers’ back catalogue. Yet, tracks like the bluesy, heartland ballad “Black Mass” and “Charlie’s Army,” where Barnett channels the quixotic adventurousness of Lord Huron’s “Fool for Love,” are welcome voyages beyond the band’s signature brand of punk, manifesting the mirrors of the band’s growth.

But even on the tracks more characteristics of earlier attempts, the subject matter focuses on the hard truths of the passage of time. “Boy Blue,” has all the sonic ferociousness of a typical Tom May-led tune (the other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter of the group) but is more complex than in the past: “the boy blue with the silver spoon / they found him dying in the living room.”

Modern punk is growing up, with the past year witnessing Modern Baseball and Jeff Rosenstock release albums that similarly grappled with the new problems of adulthood. In the second month of 2017, with After the Party The Menzingers have released an album that brilliantly does the same and with it have staked their claim as one of the most important bands of the scene.

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