Is there ever a better time in a person’s life than their 20’s? Depending on what path your life takes, probably not. For many young people, particularly those who went to college straight out of high school, being a twenty-something is the first time they get to experience any real freedom. Sure, things aren’t exactly the greatest right now- everyone is in debt up to their necks, the job market doesn’t show any visible signs of getting better, and the rent, as always, is too damn high. But at the same time, these are problems that should work themselves out when you’re older. For now, it’s time to live it up and party.
So, then, what do you do once you hit the big 3-0? As it turns out, exiting your twenties doesn’t automatically make you an adult and there’s always more growing up to do. Questioning your life’s turns or trying to make life meaningful have always been good fodder for artists, but for those of us who grew up in the late 90’s and early aughts, we not only have to find our place in the world, we have to find our place in a world that doesn’t have room for us.
This brings us to the main thesis of The Menzingers’ fifth studio album, After the Party: “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” The question burns through the album’s first track, the Jeff Rosenstock-esque ripper “Tellin’ Lies,” though the sentiment is repeated over and over again throughout the album, with verses dedicated to the worthlessness of [expensive] degrees received in the name of pleasing parents, and an entire song reflecting on being the only one left out well past last call. Album highlight “House on Fire” turns up the heat of that question with the opening line “Waiting for your life to start then you die” and its refrain “Does it make you nervous? Have you fulfilled your purpose? Yeah, does it make you nervous- the house is on fire” only pushes the urgency felt by people entering adulthood only to realize that there’s more to being an adult than turning 30.
After the Party is more than just worrying about the future, however, and The Menzingers are just as able to look back at their history and draw influence from it and vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett continues to put his best foot forward when it comes to nostalgia-driven songs. First singles “Lookers” and “Bad Catholics” are two sides of the same coin- the former fondly recalls a flame that has since extinguished, while the latter has Barnett coming to the realization that sometimes feelings disappear and romanticizing a lost love is just that: romanticization. “Your Wild Years” is reminiscent of one of Barnett’s older tracks “Casey,” albeit with a greater emphasis on the person rather than the foolish deeds committed with them, showing his evolution as a writer. Meanwhile, the band’s other singer, Tom May, only takes the lead on four tracks, but his abstract approach to lyricism has never been more sharp (just take a look at his very first line on the album, “I held up a liquor store demanding top shelf metaphors”).
In a mini-interview with Alternative Press last December, May was asked if the new album would be more “Rented World or On the Impossible Past?” and May flat out responded “On the Impossible Past.” And in a sense, it’s true. Musically speaking, After the Party isn’t as explorative as its predecessor Rented World, with many of the tracks sticking to the band’s soulful brand of bouncing punk rock, with plenty of hooks that Mick Jones would have written if he had grown up in Scranton in 1997. There are still some other styles to be found: you can almost hear the syncopated upstroke influence of Bob and the Sagets in “Tellin’ Lies,” the full-song-length-interlude “Black Mass” is driven by a steadily thumping bass and softly strummed guitars, and “The Bars” features Irish waltzing, not unlike on Masharimdaba, the band’s overlooked covers single released on St. Patrick’s Day 2016. All-in-all, however, After the Party focuses on tightening up the sound that The Menzingers are best known for already.
For all their pondering and searching, The Menzingers never find an answer to their question. Maybe it’s because there never was just one single way to be 30 years old in the first place. Sure, there’s the train of thought that older generations keep pushing: get a job, get married, have kids, and die, but it’s foolish to ignore that there are new factors to take into account, primarily economic, that have made growing up more complicated these days. The closest thing that comes to a satisfying conclusion is that “only a fool would think that living could be easy,” because living is anything but easy.
4.5 / 5
RIYL: The Replacements, Jeff Rosenstock, The Gaslight Anthem