One of the best things to come out of Scranton, Pennsylvania since the hilarious exploits of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company; The Menzingers and their fifth studio album After The Party bring to the table a new kind of punk rock – a kind that’s wonderfully weathered, tenacious, and sensible without losing any of its youthful edge. The Menzingers have always offered a sound that, while lively and explosive, has always felt just a little behind the likes of legendary 90s punk rock bands like blink-182, Rancid, and Sum-41. Their latest album, however, is as welcome departure from the seemingly routine music found in the band’s first four albums. Earlier songs like “Alpha Kaa Fall Off A Balcony” are more raw and anarchic sounding, and while they’re still good songs, they aren’t as polished as the songs on After the Party. After the Party is different because it chooses to tackle a real personal issue rather than ramble on about typical punk rocker things; things like the non-conformity and stone washed jeans. As with everyone else on earth, the band is aging, and instead of simply choosing not to acknowledge their slower metabolic rates and receding hairlines, The Menzingers tackle the issue head-on in true punker fashion; the issue that is growing old and being forced to give up the things that most punk-rockers practice religiously; the things like drugs, alcohol, and insane parties. It’s a theme that we’re introduced to right off the bat as the album’s intro track (“Tellin’ Lies”) begs for answers to the question “where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” For most people, the big three-O marks a new chapter in life; a chapter that’s filled with horrid things like getting hitched, raising kids, and pretending to understand 401(k)s. The Menzingers think instead that being thirty doesn’t mean giving up everything that you hold dear; it means having new perspectives and making decisions based on years of experience. It’s all summed up quite nicely in an interview with Kerrang! when guitarist Greg Barnett states that “we don’t have to grow up or get boring—we can keep on having a good time doing what we love.”
After the Party is full of tracks that range from nostalgic strolls down memory lane to hard-to-swallow epiphanies about adulthood. Many of the songs reference past memories, but “Bad Catholics” and “Your Wild Years” specifically go full-on nostalgia. Recalling memories from a simpler time where all they had to worry about was “flashing their lights in [their] rear view mirror,” a preferable alternative to having to stress about expensive mortgages and bad cholesterol. “Bad Catholics” sounds like a more tender and understanding rock that’s reflective of the band’s newfound maturity. It’s as if they’re looking back on a fond memory and retelling it with a new outlook that’s more self-aware. Similarly, the track “Your Wild Years” recounts the tale of a lost love, and again demonstrates a more sensible perspective as the speaker tells us about how his love was the “kind of girl that deserves the world” while he was only “the kind of guy that promises the world.” It may have been less clear at the time, but in looking back on his character he’s able to understand why he was never good for her.
In the midst of all these tales of youthful teenage rebellion and foreboding are more high-energy tracks with heavier guitar and catchy choruses reminiscent of most 90s punk rock songs. “Midwestern States” is the kind of song that encourages adventure; hopping in a car and leaving everything behind to get a fresh start, with heavy-hitting chords and a potent chorus that just begs you to sing along. “Thick as Thieves” is another hit tune that uses a vigorous drum beat, killer guitar riff, and catchy lyrics to show that the band is still capable of producing the pop punk sound that their fans know and love.
The title track “After the Party” takes everything that the album stands for and crams it into a 4-minute song. Lyrically, the speaker describes a series of personal nostalgic images like laptop speakers blaring punk music both hardcore and obscure, and a girl explaining the stories behind her many vibrant tattoos. The words paint a vivid image for you to inspect while the instruments draw you in and make you a feel like a part of the scene. The lucid guitar strums, blithe drumbeat, and introspective chorus confirm that the band is alive and well, albeit a bit older “with a new outlook on everything [they] see.” This song sounds more like classic Menzingers, yet there’s still the unshakable tone of tenacity and grit that band has gracefully adopted. The instruments sound accepting and self-assured while that feeling of mindless defiance is gone and all that remains is the true spirit of punk rock: doing what you want and not giving a shit about what others think. “After the Party” encapsulates perfectly the idea that even though some changes are unavoidable, growing older doesn’t mean abandoning all the things you love. Growing old means understanding what really matters and pursuing it wholeheartedly. And what really matters to The Menzingers is not the sex, the booze, or even the drugs. It’s the music; the rock and roll. They’re playing because it’s what they love to do and no amount of wrinkles and back problems are going to get in their way.