I’ve heard of so many sub-genres of punk it would make your head spin. Pop-punk, metal-punk, rap-punk and so on I’ve seen it all and I’ve heard it all. Now Ska-punk on the other hand, which is an entirely new field of punk I have never even heard of. This is what the American punk band The Menzingers classify their sound as, and considering they were formed from the remnants of a ska-punk and pop punk band, their music definitely has that ska influence, but first and foremost they are a good old fashioned American punk rock band. The band released its first demo tape the same year of their formation which climbed its way to several top 10 lists of the year. Their debut album A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology which despite being recording “in maybe 10 days” according to vocalist Greg Barnett was met with high praise from critics. The Menzingers third studio album On the Impossible Past was released on February 20, 2012 cemented their image as punk geniuses as the album received universal critical acclaim. Their fourth album Rented World met similar success in the punk world, and the band went on tour between 2014 and 2015 through North America, Europe and Australia as either headliners or supporting acts, before settling down to record their fifth studio album After the Party. Barnett has said in an interview that the album is a “love letter to our twenties” and the band wastes little time jumping into the glories of being a fresh young 20 year old with an album that is as punk as you can get.
The first track titled ‘Tellin Lies’ definitely pays homage to the bands ska origins with an upbeat and simple drum line with the guitars supporting in a much similar fashion. The band said an in interview with The Aquarian that while the goal was to produce a fun and purely punk album they wanted to maintain “the storytelling aspect” that was always prominent on previous albums, and if After the Party is an album about being 20 and free, ‘Telling Lies’ sets up the narrative for the rest of the album with the simple question “what are we gonna do now that our twenties are over”. It’s a question that is answered through the subsequent songs which all focus on the various ups and downs that someone goes through during their pre-adult years. The album has songs about break-ups, being lonely, nostalgia revolving around being young and dumb, but all of these depressing subjects are wrapped up and disguised in energetic, fun and pure punk songs, answering the aforementioned question with “we’re going to keep partying like nothing’s changed!” Songs like ‘Thick as Thieves’ tells the story about a group of friends who drink and party without fear of repercussions or ‘Bad Catholic’ which is about two teens driving around high and, you guessed it, partying without a care in the world.
‘The Bars’, one of my favourite tracks of the entire album, maintains that punk sound but slows down the tempo tremendously. As a result, I felt that the lyrics of the song registered with me more effectively than previous tracks due to them working in tandem with the instrumental to drive the same idea home. The lines “Nightstand memorial to past libation / A sudden fear of phone vibrations / Too hung over to sleep / Too tired to stay alive / Benzos, bile, and bills / There’s so much missing time to kill” sung over that anthemic backtrack really puts the idea of losing one’s youth into perspective. I think its placement as the 11 track on the album is key as well, because I feel like the song is saying “the past is the past and you cannot relive it” which is even more powerful after listening to 10 songs all dedicated to trying to preserve ones youth though an emulated lifestyle.
The title track of the album ‘After the party’ is what the band describes as the ‘epiphany’ moment of the album. The two verses in the song essentially list a bunch of random memories in the singers head, ranging from a ‘coffee grounds and coffee cups” to those Russian Matryoshka dolls. While the lyrics seem odd and out of place at first, Barnett confirmed in an interview that the idea of using unexciting imagery like the aforementioned examples were done to “capture the excitement of falling in love that language often misses”. Simply put, the band was attempting to tell a story of falling in love purely through imagery, as when you’re falling in love with someone, even the most boring or useless items or trinkets can hold significant value.
If maintaining a story aspect was one of The Menzingers goals for this album then I think they hit the nail on the head. From what I understand, the overall narrative suggests that regardless of what is occurring in life, someone can party, have fun or rock out. On the other hand, I feel that maintaining this message throughout the entire album really limited the musical range that The Menzingers could use. At the same time, only 3 of the songs on this 13 track album take a more mellowed and slowed beat, while the remaining 10 sound like typical punk anthems. Barret has stated that the primary sound they were looking for was something that could be thrown onto a “jukebox in a bar and be fucking punk the whole night”, which plays into the same aforementioned issue of a narrowed musical range. In the albums leading single ‘Lookers’ for example, the band delivers the powerful lines “In a teenage memory / That I hold till eternity / Cause the future ain’t coming for it”, talking about losing a significant other and subsequently losing a potential future with them. The first 40 seconds of the track are sung as a ballad, and in all honesty I think the song would have been much better if it had stayed in this style for its duration. At the 45 second mark it picks back up into the energetic and fast paced rhythm that The Menzingers excel at. At its core, I think one of the major flaws of After the Party is that the bands focus on producing a fun album occasionally conflicts with some of the deeper or darker tracks.
I haven’t listened to any punk, metal or rock albums in quite some time now. I found that too many bands were experimenting with genre blending and that ‘pure punk’ was a dying breed. The Menzingers have this nostalgic, 80s to early 2000s punk sound about them and remind me of punk legends such Blink-182 or Greenday to name a few and capture the essence of what punk music means to me: all out fun with no worries. I’m in my 20s right now, so the message of growing out of that age is lost on me, but still I found myself thinking of my teenage years while listening to the album, of skateboarding around the park or having sleepovers with my friends where we stayed up all night playing video games. There’s something special about nostalgic memories like that, and I think that’s what the album was saying, instead of dwelling on a past that cant relived, forge forward and make new memories instead. If this album has instilled any message on me, it’s the one that proves that true punk never died, and even After The Party is over, it will still be around for you thrash and rock out too.