The Menzingers Face Down The Aging Process In 'After The Party'

Apr 17, 2017
Originally published on April 18, 2017 2:18 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MENZINGERS SONG, "LIVIN' AIN'T EASY")

GROSS: The Menzingers are a Philadelphia-based quartet that's just released its fifth album titled "After The Party." The collection features numerous songs about getting older, and the band has said that the album is a love letter to our 20s. Rock critic Ken Tucker has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' AIN'T EASY")

THE MENZINGERS: (Singing) In vibrant hues and subtle brush strokes of memory, the life I've painted I've sold for a quick 20. It's on display now for the privileged and the wealthy. God, I despise their reassuring, lying eyes. Our home...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Boy, the Menzingers are really obsessed about their advancing age. Not for nothing is this collection called "After The Party." The party is a stand-in for youth - youthful joy, young love and being young enough to stay up all night without feeling your bones creak in the morning. I should note here that all four band members are somewhere around the age of 30, so it's not as though the Rolling Stones had suddenly decided to do a concept album on the theme of decrepitude. Or as The Menzigers sing on this song, "Tellin' Lies," where are we going to go now that our 20s are over?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELLIN' LIES")

THE MENZINGERS: (Singing) Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Everything's terrible when buying marijuana makes you feel like like a criminal, when your new friends take a joke too literal, making you feel like the bad guy. Oh, oh, where are we going to go - oh, oh - now that our 20s are over? Oh, yeah, oh, yeah - all hope abandoned - I'm not young enough to be a companion. Not old enough to be a guide, what a cliche time to try. Oh, oh, where are we going to go - oh, oh - now that our 20s are over? Where we...

TUCKER: "Tellin' Lies" leads off this album and serves a dual purpose. It states the album's unifying theme of facing down the aging process. It also provides a crisp introduction to the Menzingers' sound, with vocals that are hoarsely yelled over rapidly strum guitar chords and a rhythm section that most often alternates between punk rock and Jamaican derived ska. There are times when chief songwriters Greg Barnett and Tom May actually sound much older than they are. I'm not talking about their music, but rather their vocabularies. When was the last time you heard someone use the word looker to describe an attractive person, as in she or he is a real looker?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKERS")

TUCKER: On that song called, sensibly enough, "Lookers," the band tosses in a reference to Jack Kerouac and Dean Moriarty. And the callback to the Beat Generation doesn't feel cheap or unearned. Instead, it reminds you that Kerouac and the Beats cribbed the term from black musicians who used it in the sense of beaten down, exhausted or depressed. The Menzingers make their most despairing music some of their most intense and anthemic. You can hear this on the song "House On Fire," with its recurring line, waiting for your life to start, then you die.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOUSE ON FIRE")

THE MENZINGERS: (Singing) Waiting for your life to start, then you die. Whoa. Was your heart beating in the first place? Waiting for your life to start, then you die. Whoa. Was your heart beating in the first place? Lost myself in the kitchen. There's an old friend falling down the stairs. They said there's cops in the alley way. It's too late for saving us. Let it burn down. Waiting for your...

TUCKER: On a beautiful, medium-tempo song called "Black Mass," the band unfurls a melody that might have been lifted from an old Everly Brothers ballad in the 1950s. Over a drumbeat that nails down the points they want to make, they fill the song with their own sort of casual eloquence. A phrase such as you used to call me darlin', now you prefer more formal, sums up an entire relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK MASS")

THE MENZINGERS: (Singing) We used to want to take the back roads. But now we found a distance shorter. You used to call me darlin'. Now you prefer more formal. We used to get high and stare at the moon and wonder how long it would take to walk to. But now that's like the distance between me and you.

TUCKER: What the Menzingers miss most about the youth they idealize, is a sense of innocence that will never be recaptured. Some of the music framing their words is grandiose. But to their credit, their nostalgia is mostly free of damp sentimentality. Indeed, it's a dry-eyed realism that gives "After The Party" it's true vigorousness.

The band is one step away from the realization that in the kind of rock and roll they make, aging can give you a renewed sense of purpose, to make being an adult sound as thrilling as you used to think being a kid was.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed "After The Party" by the Menzingers. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about what it was like to work in the Obama White House and oversee the goings on of the White House campus and coordinate with the First Family, Secret Service, Military and Air Force One. My guest will be President Obama's former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Alyssa Mastromonaco. We'll also talk about her impressions of the Trump White House. She's written a new memoir. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE'S ARMY ")

THE MENZINGERS: (Singing) I guess I should tell her I'm sorry, I never showed up to the party. Yeah, I got into a misunderstanding with her old boyfriend named Charlie. Yeah, I love, I love my Juliet. But her ex-boyfriend wants me dead. But tell your men I ain't afraid to die. When I first met her, I fell in love. She smiled because she knew. We were day drinking in Brooklyn. It was death in the afternoon, yeah. I love, I love my Juliet. But her ex-boyfriend wants me dead. Charlie's army's... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.