After the Party is a grower, not a shower.
This will sound a bit juvenile, but the Menzingers’ newest effort, After the Party, is a grower, not a shower. Coming off two career-defining albums (2012’s On the Impossible Past and 2014’s Rented World), it would be quite a tall order to match those achievements. And truthfully enough, the first spin through may leave much to be desired. It’s not so much that the album sounds different—even though it’s crisper, more polished, less abrasive—as it feels different. As if the band had turned a corner in their personal lives that forced their music to round the same curve. They’d perfected the sadness of aging out of one’s twenties, and After the Party, as the title suggests, feels the weight of the era that follows the good/great/bad/horrible times of reckless youth. It’s quite jarring the first time through. Jarring and gut-wrenching because those Menzingers of old aren’t these Menzingers.
But then you take a second spin through. And a third. A fourth. At which point you realize you’re older and happier/sadder just as the band’s older and happier/sadder, and, you know what, After the Party is exactly the Menzingers record we need to hear right now. It’s a heartbreaker, it’s a fist-pumper, it’s a room-wrecker.
After the Party begins with “Tellin’ Lies” which is more or less a classic Menzingers’ indie-punk song complete with squealing guitar riffs and lyrics that prefer the darker side of life. (“Oh yeah, oh yeah/ Everything is terrible.”) While the meat of the song won’t tug on the heartstrings with the melody, the lyrics will make your chest heavy. “Thick as Thieves” is a ready-made radio rocker with bittersweet guitar work and a head-bopper of a chorus. This track makes it abundantly clear that the Menzingers are ready for the next step. Bigger crowds, bigger shows, bigger careers. While “Thick as Thieves” is a great tune, “Lookers” is the one that perfectly combines the ultra-polished production aesthetics with the best of the band’s songwriting. The chorus here is catchy, melodic and poignant—full of the joy, sadness and pain of righteous rock ‘n’ roll.
“Charlie’s Army” and “House on Fire” offer highlights in the middle of the album, while “Black Mass” and “Boy Blue” offer new bits of the band (a folksy dirge and a mid-‘90s post-grunge riff respectively), they just don’t quite reach the heights of the aforementioned tracks. “Bad Catholics” and “Your Wild Years” both encapsulate what the band’s been doing for the majority of its career. “The Bars” isn’t quit cow punk, but there’s some yelling laments, some shuffle dancing, which will then switch gears quite suddenly into a more traditional punk song with a nice, quick, driving beat.
“After the Party” and “Livin’ Ain’t Easy” close this record quite beautifully. The title track is an emotionally brutal punk rocker that could be a sequel to “Nice Things” from On the Impossible Past. Dark, driving but wildly melodic—like sing-along melodic—this thing will pull your heart out, stomp on it, then stuff it back into the hole in your chest all battered and wrecked. That’s not to say “Livin’ Ain’t Easy” won’t do the same thing—both songs just have completely different ways of going about how to beat your soul to a pulp. This track is a cross between a folk punk ballad and a ghost story—the guitar work and chorus vocals ethereal and remorseful in the back of the mind calling, warning that life is hard and gets harder.
After the Party doesn’t dazzle in the same ways their previous two albums do, but in ways we haven’t heard up to this point. While the Menzingers’ music has always been concerned with living and growing and dying, this album accomplishes the same things by asserting that nothing’s the same as it was a few years ago and there’s no going back—and that’s dreadfully sad. These guys know what they’re doing, and as they continue to grow, they accomplish the same things in very different ways. This time it’s just not a stylistic shift; it’s a change of perspective. And it’s excellent.