Whether it’s expressed lyrically or swept under the rug, time is a factor that inevitably takes its toll on all musicians. With how competitive the music industry is, and how accessible music has become, it’s difficult for bands to stay fresh and relevant for an extended period of time. Finding a group that is able to continuously find success is a rare feat, but something worthy of praise when it happens.
Focusing within the punk scene, Scranton, PA based quartet The Menzingers are a group that have continued to find success despite the inevitable ticking of the clock. A key to their success, ironically, has been by making the passing of time a common theme within their latest studio efforts After the Party and now Hello Exile.
After the band members turned 30, they focused all of their self-awareness of getting older, reflection of the past, and anxiety for what the future holds within the 13 tracks of After the Party. The group found wonderful success with this, releasing an album that was generally well-received by their fanbase with its sincere and relatable lyrics. Hello Exile serves as somewhat of a continuation for the groundwork After the Party laid before it, extending on their signature storytelling and creating memorable hooks that make various tracks repeat-worthy.
At their core, The Menzingers have been known for their dueling guitar riffs and crafty storytelling. Though the dueling guitar riffs you would find in On the Impossible Past aren’t as prevalent, they still pack a punch in their later discography. The storytelling is still very much alive and well and takes on a new level of maturity in recent releases. While On the Impossible Past focuses on being miserable in the here and now, Rented World shifts into a deeper sense of numbness and frustration.
While Rented World showed signs of regression with the Scranton boys, they showed new signs of growth and identity with After the Party with admirable self-awareness of getting older and still not having life figured out. The bleak lyrics are juxtaposed with poppy melodies to boast the idea that they may not have life figured out, but it’s okay. The group stuck to their roots and created an identity that embodies a lost soul. The lyrics are honest, but not too esoteric that they divided their fanbase, which contributed to the record’s success.
The Menzingers continue with the foundation they set with After the Party on Hello Exile. The stories remain genuine and close to the heart, evoking a feeling of nostalgia for a time long since passed. With this nostalgia comes a layer of self-awareness for the present, and how time has its effect on both people and places. Whether it’s revisiting former stomping grounds (“High School Friend”) or trying to grow up too fast (“Farewell Youth”), the record tackles very common themes that cross the minds of everyone as time passes by, while adding a level of sincerity with the detail in the lyrics.
The Menzingers certainly aren’t the first band to write songs about time passing by or having anxiety about the uncertainty the future holds. In arguably the most well-received record by The Wonder Years, Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing embraces very similar themes. The main difference between the two is that the clocks are turned a little further backwards in Suburbia, posing different problems. Problems that gravitate around failed relationships and temporarily moving back in with parents (“Came Out Swinging”) or battling through your depression (“Local Man Ruins Everything”). While The Wonder Years were tailoring toward angsty twenty-somethings, The Menzingers focused on the lost thirty-somethings.
On a melodic standpoint, The Menzingers have stayed consistent over the years, while also not writing the same record twice. Another common trap that bands fall into while trying to remain fresh is switching up the stylistic tone and straying too far from the groundwork they’ve laid before it. It’s never a bad idea to push the creative envelope and draw influence from varying genres, but it runs the risk of dividing the fanbase, or losing it entirely. On the successful side of stylistic change, Emarosa is a band worthy of praise for shifting from post-hardcore to radio pop in their latest studio effort Peach Club. On the other end of the spectrum, Being as an Ocean strayed a bit too far from the path in their latest studio effort Proxy: An A.N.I.M.O. Story, essentially abandoning all of the styles that made them unique previously. The Menzingers have continued to take the middle path in this regard, sticking to their roots and stylistically remaining consistent within the punk scene.
In order to remain relevant and stand the test of time, it’s important for bands to not lose sight of what made fans fall in love with them in the first place. For The Menzingers, though the dueling guitars aren’t nearly as prevalent as they once were, their lyrical storytelling has aged like a fine wine. Seeing The Menzingers play a show back in 2012 compared to 2019 has been a night and day difference in regards to the energy level in the room. Seeing The Menzingers play a sold out show in Grand Rapids, MI a few months back, with the crowd belting every line of their songs, was an incredibly joyous and euphoric experience. It’s been an honor to watch The Menzingers grow over the years and continue to find success as the clock continues to tick.