Key Tracks: “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” “Rodent”
*** Let me start, as I have a few times before, by saying that this review should be taken with a grain of salt, as my love for the Menzingers runs deep enough that it’s impossible for me to stay unbiased as I shriek and clap listening to their new album. ***
The only downside to releasing a heralding, magnum opus of an album is figuring out how to follow it. Look at the most magnum opus-y album of this generation: Titus Andronicus’ “The Monitor.” (Okay, it’s probably “Yeezus,” but for the sake of conversation). The band followed it up with a significantly more straightforward and approachable album, “Local Business” (that’s just as good and I do and will always defend it). But this is tougher for pop-punk group the Menzingers, because 2012’s “On the Impossible Past” is simply a “magnum opus” because of how good it is. Listening to it for the first time is as memorable as graduating or getting married. The band accidentally created a masterpiece. So the only way to follow up an album as good as it is to just stick to the formula.
“Rented World” opens with a track called “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore.” It starts with a shrieking guitar and frantic energy, as any pop-punk opener should. But the song seems to slowly cool down, giving way a few times to just vocals. The follow-up, “Bad Things,” is strong but a lot more moderately-paced. This is how the Menzingers operate – their energy often feels forced, like they don’t quite have the heart to give it their all. And it fits them well, given their often lackluster-y existential lyrics. The album still has a ton of energy to it, but as with “Past,” the emotion comes first. Pop-punk has changed. This isn’t pizza, jorts and hating this town, this is death, addiction and overwhelming apathy.
For those playing along at home, the second track is indeed called “Bad Things.” “Past” had “Good Things” and “Nice Things,” and even those ironically-named times have taken a turn for the worse. While the album isn’t as interesting musically – it’s straighter, and it isn’t self-referential – it might just be even darker lyrically. “Past” was a cohesive album, because it told reflective stories. “Casey,” “Freedom Bridge,” “Nice Things” and “Gates” all tied specific memories to specific, lost people. But where that album was outward, this one is inward. There’s exceptions on both albums, of course, but “Rented World” is a look at all that’s wrong inside. The album is peppered with beautifully devastating lines like “I am only bad news / For you,” on “Rodent,” and “If everyone needs a crutch / I need a wheelchair” on first single and Key Track runner-up “In Remission.” “I know where your heartache exists,” “Nothing feels good anymore.” If “Past” was a sad look at a memory that can’t be relived, “World” is an honest look at a present that can’t be changed.
The Menzingers need to stop hogging talent. Sure, they’re a pop-punk band, they’re not the most talented group. But the band shares two great, similar singers in Tom May and Greg Barnett, and somehow, sharing rough lyrics between two singers deepens their impact. This album’s only real fault is lacking the arc that made “On the Impossible Past” the overnight success it is. But again, it’s an extremely tough act to follow. They do branch out just a little – “Transient Love” is a legit slower song, and almost a minute longer than any song on it’s predecessor. And it’s followed by “The Talk,” a >2:30 kicker that, at times, sounds more like traditional early 00’s pop-punk than their own moody blend. Otherwise, “Rented World” is simply a collection of songs meant to beat you up inside, and it certainly succeeds. It’s going to forever be compared to “Past,” but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a separate, confident and viable album that’s going to be remembered nearly as fondly. It’s crisp and concise; inspired and emotional, and loud as all hell. Effortlessly great songs like “Hearts Unknown” and “In Remission” prove that the Menzingers know exactly what they’re doing. So don’t fear a mediocre follow-up, and prep your heart and stomach in advance.
If you like this, try: This is a tough one, but as mentioned before, I defend Titus Andronicus’ “Local Business” to death. It’s another example of capitalizing on an insurmountable predecessor in a more straightforward but equally inspired manner.
-By Andrew McNally