Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Album Review: After The Party by The Menzingers (by Emma Prew)

The Menzingers’ fifth album has felt a rather long time coming – although maybe I’m just saying that because they’re one of my absolute favourite bands and so I could be considered a bit bias. It could also be said that I might be a tad bias when reviewing the aforementioned fifth album, After The Party. That said, I have had mixed feelings about the songs they released early from it over the past few months – one I loved instantly but the others were growers for me. But, of course, that didn’t stop me from being hella excited about a new Menzos album.

My vinyl copy was delivered on release day and featured a lovely little Good Things pun written on the back of the packaging – ‘FRAGILE. NOT all good things should fall apart’. So cheers Banquet Records, you made my Friday. I’ve only listened to the vinyl version of the album once, at least at the point of writing this review, but the digital version has had more than a few plays by me. And so, without further ado, After The Party…

The first song is called Tellin’ Lies and it gets the album off to a promising start with some big guitars. It definitely feels like a decent introduction to what I’m hoping is going to be an excellent album and it isn’t long before Greg’s voice can be heard singing Oh yeah, oh yeah, everything is terrible’. This song sets the tone for much of the album with its theme of realising that you’re getting that little bit older and wondering if that means you should change your ways. The chorus is poppier than I was expecting but it’s sure as hell catchy and I can’t wait to yell it along with the band at a live show soon. ‘Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?’

The big guitars continue into the second song, Thick As Thieves. The guitars actually remind me a bit of 80s metal music – which is not something I ever thought I’d say about this band! This is a slower track than the first and sees Tom take on the vocal duties. There are some pretty pounding drums behind the melodic guitar playing. The verses are relatively slow-paced, not dissimilar to Sculptors And Vandals from On The Impossible Past, while the chorus is a tad faster and louder. Thick as thieves, On our knees with an ocean in between’ The song is about remaining close friends with someone despite the physical distance between you.

Lookers is next up on After The Party. You’ve probably heard this track already yourself, even if you haven’t listened to the whole album yet, as this was the first song that the band previewed ahead of anything else – several months ago. I have to admit that I wasn’t 100% sold on my first few listens to the song but now hearing it as part of the full album I do like it a lot more. Thick As Thieves fades out and Lookers begins slowly, with Greg’s vocals sounding muffled and echoey at first. After 30 seconds or so, the volume is cranked up and the same lyrics are repeated again. The song has a poppier tone – probably one reason why I wasn’t so sold on it at first – but the pure sense of nostalgia can be enjoyed by all.

The fourth track is named Midwestern States and is a song about wanting to go somewhere, anywhere, so long as it’s different from where you started – in this case, the midwest of America. This song has definitely got one of the best choruses of the album – ‘You said LA's only two days if we drive straight, Denver if we get tired, Said you didn't mind stopping just as long as we got out of the midwest states, The midwestern states’. You’ve kinda gotta hear it as Greg sings it to fully know what I mean. Another one that I bet will be brilliant live.

Charlie’s Army is a weird song but maybe I’m just saying that because it’s quite different. It’s upbeat and pretty lighthearted – I mean, aside from the fact that it’s about Greg’s (or a metaphorical man’s) girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend ‘coming for him’. The chorus is super accessible, almost to the extent that I’m not actually sure I like it and it feels like some sort of guilty pleasure if I was to say that I do. Perhaps I will think of the song differently after I hear it live for the first time. I’ll probably leave the gig with ‘Charlie's army's coming for me, He says, "Boy, you're gonna be sorry”’ in my head either way.

Tom is back for House On Fire, the sixth song on After The Party. As much as I love Greg’s voice and his songs, I think that Tom is stupidly underrated. On the earlier Menzingers albums I think he sang on more songs – although some were probably more gang vocal style songs from both Tom and Greg. House On Fire is a continuation of the ‘getting older and wondering what to do with your life’ theme but this time it’s great to hear Tom’s point of view. ‘Waiting for your life to start then you die, Was your heart beating in the first place?’

As we reach the middle point of the album – or side A if you’re listening to the album on vinyl – there is a significantly slower song than anything that we’ve heard so far. Black Mass almost sounds like it could be included on more of a folky sounding album – which is also not something I ever thought I’d say about The Menzingers. At least they can’t be accused of making songs that all sound the same! Black Mass has quite a melancholic tone, with a chorus of ‘But hey, do you really want to throw it away?, Do you really want to throw it away?, I'd do anything to make you stay’. But the last line of the song offers a sense of hope – ‘For just a little, just a little bit longer…’.

Boy Blue is the first track on side B, or you could just call it track 8. This is a song led by Tom and it reminds me a lot of Chamberlain Waits era Menzos – except a bit of a slicker sound with more refined vocals. The chorus has some pretty great rhymes too – ‘The boy blue with the silver spoon, They found him dying in the living room, Say goodbye to the bride and groom, Send them off on their honeymoon’. Great stuff.

Bad Catholics is one of the other songs that was released out into the world ahead of the full album and I heard it live for the first time at The Fest 15. As you can probably gather from the title alone, this is a song about rebelling against the religious background that you were brought up with. The song begins with a catchy guitar riff and the catchiness continues into the lyrics. Interestingly, apparently this song wasn’t supposed to be on the album but the band were impressed by the audience’s reaction to its live debut. I can confirm that this song does sound great live!

Next up is a song that is in parts as sad as it is beautiful. Your Wild Years is a slower paced song in which Greg expresses how he knows his girl deserves better than he can offer – ‘I toss and turn at four in the morning, Petrified of where our future's going, ’Cause you're the kind of girl that deserves the world, I'm just the kind of guy that promises the world.’ 

The Bars is a pure drinking song, although not in the typical rowdy style that you might expect and that’s what I love about it. It’s a slow builder and the guitar at the beginning sounds a little like this could be some sort of alternative national anthem (maybe that’s just me!). An anthem for bars at least – no matter how shitty they may seem, no matter how many times you end up losing your wallet, phone and keys and no matter how horribly hungover you feel the next day. There’s something that always draws you, or Tom in this case, back. It actually reminds me a bit of Dropkick Murphys or something like that, perhaps just because it's such a ‘drinking song’.

Now that we’re drawing towards the end of the album, we come to the title track. After The Party is one of my favourite songs on this album and I loved it from the first listen – unlike the other couple of tracks that were released ahead of the full album. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of previous Menzingers songs that I have loved – and still do. It doesn’t try to do anything crazily new, it just is brilliant. I could quote the lyrics of the whole song because it’s all great but, of course, the chorus stands out the most. ‘Everybody wants to get famous, But you just want to dance in a basement, You don't care if anyone is watching, Just as long as you stay in motion, We put miles on these old jean jackets, Got caught up in the drunk conversations, But after the party, it's me and you, After the party, it's me and you.’

I would have been more than happy if the album ended there but in true Menzingers style, they end After The Party with a slower track. The melodic and melancholic opening guitar part of Livin’ Ain’t Easy definitely reminds me of When You Died from Rented World but this song isn’t quite that sad. The song sums up the overall theme of the album, continuing to live your life despite getting older and despite how difficult it might seem sometimes. The bridge is a lyrical highlight for me – ‘Oh you know it breaks my heart, Watching your whole life fall apart, While bastards dance off with the night, As we try to break free with all our might.’

No matter what The Menzingers do, there are always going to be people who compare new material to their 2012 third album, On The Impossible Past – and, for the most part, people will probably say that OTIP was better. That album is without a doubt one of my favourite albums of all time, let alone just my favourite Menzos album, but I am also able to acknowledge that the band are not in the same place that they were 5 or more years ago.

They will never write another On The Impossible Past and I’m okay with that. I think I need to listen to After The Party a few more times (as I did with each of their previous releases) but I certainly wasn’t disappointed by this album. It is more varied that I was expecting and that’s no bad thing. I’m looking forward to hearing some of these songs live in April and you should be too.

If you should desire it, you can find The Menzingers on Facebook here and pick up the record from Banquet Records here.

This review was written by Emma Prew.