Artist: The Menzingers
Album: Rented World
Release Date: 18th April 2014
In the February of 2012 I fell in love. I fell in love with a punk band from Scranton, Pennsylvania that goes by the name of The Menzingers, an Anglicism of the German word ‘Die Minnesanger’, meaning ‘The Troubadour’. I figured that any band with such an obscure name was worth a listen, and following listening to their new album at the time, On the Impossible Past, the test of time has shown that to be a reliable method of finding new artists.
There were many songs on that record such as Gates, Mexican Guitars and the eponymous track that tugged on my heart-strings, it was punk with solid song-writing and lyricism and melody. They offered tales of the common man; love, loss and sailing along the grey seas of urban life, all in emotive, poetic language with the minor keys that would naturally accompany them. However, one reason that I loved The Menzingers more than the average run-of-the-mill punk act was that they showed depth and talent collectively by packing tracks with mature angst, and by that I mean all the raw energy that would one need to give yourself whiplash in a mosh pit without the curse of sounding immature, desperate and ’emo’ like so many unsuccessful predecessors. If anything, the more music they release the more the message seems to transition from “Life sucks” to “I’m much older now, and it still sucks, but in different ways”.
From that first listen, I was filled with the selfish impulse of needing more, more than the bonus track Great Apes and Shiny Stones, more than the acoustic demo tape they released of the album. I sat on the edge of my seat for the following two years, craving something new, awaiting their next release.
When the news of the upcoming album Rented World was soon to hit the shelves, the excitement was almost too much to bear, and when the band released In Remission, the first single from the new album, I was almost pushed over the edge as I pre-ordered the album.
Now that I’ve sold you the band in an undeniably biased fashion, let’s take a more clinical glimpse at Rented World.
The first couple of seconds of In Remission sound as if it were a product of a night-raid on The Darkness’ riff cupboard, an alarming thought for most of us. Fortunately, once the intro is done and dusted, we are re-united with the dulcet tones of Greg Barnett, one half of The Menzingers’ vocal assault.
Nota Bene: An important thing to know about The Menzingers is that they are a two vocalist band, Greg and Tom May, the second vocalist are definitely two important pieces of the dynamic of the band, operating in much the same fashion as Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge. Sometimes sharing songs, and more often than not, dividing up the album time singing songs of their own. In The Menzingers, I would argue that Tom May provides the harsher, more raw or typically ‘punk’ scream vocals, which accounts for the band’s frenetic energy, whereas Greg Barnett provides the softer clean vocals which lend themselves to the ballads and the heart-rendering songs.
In Remission, however, is one of The Menzingers’ trademark stories of blue-collar lovers, exemplifying juxtaposition of romantic language and nuance with the everyday language and reality of the everyday man and woman: “Maybe the future’s just a little bit weird, maybe the God you love is all I gotta [sic] fear, life’s a type of illness in remission.” It’s a fairly uplifting song, even with a bridge like “If everyone needs a crutch, then I need a wheelchair.” and irrespective of the lyrical content, you can’t help but find your head moving up and down in a curious rock and roll sort of way, and you may find yourself singing it in the shower. It’s similar enough to their previous material to make you feel at home, and safe with their direction and yet fresh enough to give you a feeling that they have made a new album and not just extended their previous effort.
The album’s second single I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore comes complete with an alternative and emotive storyline for a video, much like Kodaline’s All I Want, it adds to the song’s underlying cry of shameful help, like one from a man aware of the downward spiral he finds himself on and apologises for the process, if Charles Manson had ever fallen down the helter-skelter, this would be the wail we would hear. Much like the song’s title, the message is clear: I don’t want to be an assh*le anymore, promising “I won’t lie no more about where I’ve been, and I won’t pry no more over the people that [sic] you’re hanging with. You’re the only lover that I ever miss and I’ve been hopelessly in love with”. However, there is a strong sense of having a “But” in the mix. The tone of the song says purely and simply, I don’t want to be that man any more, but I’m not sure if I can stop. Something we can all relate to.
Now before we get to the negatives of the album, there are two more songs that cannot go without a mention. Transient Love and I Know Where Your Heartache Exists are two of the strongest tracks on the album in my opinion.
I Know Where Your Heartache Exists opens with an abrasive bass line, and a guitar riff that bobs along in a similar way to Gates from On the Impossible Past. It’s another of Greg’s offerings to the album, concerning yet again, matters of the heart. There are proclamations that the woman in question feels heartache “When you’re alone and when you’re around me”, creating another defeatist sentiment, much like I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, and coupled with a sense of self-degradation: “I was a pushy little one when you tried to find someone new, I just kinda waited around for you, because what else was I supposed to do?”.
In some ways this can be viewed as a negative to the album. Many of the songs are pessimistic and honest and self-deprecating, and if upbeat love songs or offensive punk ditties are your bag, then this is a song, possibly an album to avoid, but if you appreciate honesty concerning our negative traits and bad habits then this is something definitely worth checking out.
Transient Love is unsurprisingly about, you guessed it: love. I’ll reiterate that if love songs delivered in punk format seems to clash too much with you, then this is something to avoid. The track is dark and trance-like, leading on to melodic riffs with eloquently delivered desperate lyrics such as “I used to lie to myself all the time, I was always over-reacting screaming, ‘I’m gonna die'” and “All I ever wanted was to make things right.” If you’re a new listener to The Menzingers, it is easy to understand why these emotion-charged songs could put you off, it’s almost like avoiding the emotionally unstable girlfriend, too unsure to lend an ear in case you get too involved with the tale. To some extent this is the case with Rented World. Due to the frankness in the songs, unless you want to throw yourself into the deep-end, then these are songs best avoided because believe me, once you’re in, you feel it, something which adds testimony of the passionate delivery.
Despite my biased take on the record, there are definite flaws with its construction. For me, these come in the form of songs such as The Talk and Sentimental Physics which are more traditional punk songs, fast paced and aggressive, the expected offering from Tom May, one of the band’s vocalists. If these songs were on an album with other songs of a similar ilk, then it would have far more fluidity, but when they’re enveloped with songs such as Nothing Feels Good Anymore an understandably downbeat song and Transient Love in a lot of ways it doesn’t make sense and if you listen to the album from start to finish you can be left with a feeling of jagged song choices, which don’t always flow as neatly as you’d like and often switch up the vibe of the album. Usually, Tom and Greg hold a great harmony, and not just in the songs they sing together, but the overall atmosphere of the album, Rented World is unfortunately one of their less coordinated attempts.
The result? The album is a definitely commendable. If you’re a new listener, then Rented World is as good a place to pick up the band as any. The songs are well constructed lyrically and can be poetic in nature, however, at times they can be viewed as too depreciating and self-loathing. The music is melodic and there are more hooks than a fish pond, so if you’re looking for something to get in your head to replace that pop track you keep hearing on the radio, you’re in luck, but unless you’re prepared to take the rough with the smooth and accept the clashing of ballad and harsh punk together, then checking out the album is something to first be considered.
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