Published Feb 01, 2017By most measures, 30 years old is still very young.
But it doesn't feel like that, does it? Thirty is a milestone of adulthood that can feel like the end of an era. So, when the Menzingers sing on the first song of their latest record, "What are we gonna do now that our 20s are over?" they're not just asking themselves, but all of us wondering the same. We can't stop ourselves from getting older, so how do we deal with it?
The Menzingers' fifth album rivals, if not surpasses, the nostalgic Americana of their 2012 breakthrough, On the Impossible Past. While 2014's Rented World was mostly fine, it just didn't feel quite right — it was a decent but ultimately unsatisfying jumble of ideas that felt flat and disjointed. What the band do best is sing with their hearts in their throats, and the pensively anthemic After the Party is a return to form for a band that ranks among the revered leaders (joined by peers like Japandroids and the Gaslight Anthem) of what you could call "heartland punk."
Packed with explosive melody, After the Party features much of the band's finest writing to date, led by the wistfully passionate delivery of duo Tom May and Greg Barnett. The lyric sheet reads like pages torn from a diary and photos peeled from a scrapbook, placing you in a vividly remembered time and place that feels intimately familiar. They reference "teenage memory" and "worthless diplomas," and the notion that you're "waiting for your life to start, then you die," reflecting on the dying fire of youth and the waywardness of uncertain adulthood. The band balance power and punch with softness and subtlety, thanks to noticeable maturity and discipline as well as fine work by Pennsylvania's staple indie-punk producer Will Yip.
"Lookers" may be the Menzingers' single greatest song, a soaring ode to the past and present. "House on Fire" and "Your Wild Years" are sentimental standouts, too, as is the booming, climactic "After the Party," while slow burners like "Black Mass," "Bars" and "Livin' Ain't Easy" break up the pace and add poignancy to the band's insistence that while things will keep changing, we all still get to make our own choices. The album's only misfire is the pubescent "Charlie's Army," which feels like a spiritual successor to that "Scotty Doesn't Know" song from the movie EuroTrip.
In broad strokes, this is an album about what happens when life becomes less fun and more real. It's about the people and places that make us who we are, the things that make us unique and the things that bring us together. It's about the things that make us happy despite everything else, the things that fade and the things that last forever.
Hearing it now, After the Party is delightfully bittersweet. Years on, when time has continued to pass and age has continued to set in, it'll be devastating. (Epitaph)