Who It Is: The Menzingers – Rented World; Epitaph Records (2014)
Who It Sounds Like: the Replacements, the Lawrence Arms, Hot Water Music
If 2013 was a landmark year for today’s punk and hardcore scene, 2014 seems to be the year for straightforward follow-ups. I don’t mean that in any negative sense; it just seems as though several bands have released albums that pass more-so as collections of songs rather than full blown concepts, some surpassing their past efforts (La Dispute, Fireworks) and others reaching for stylistic change (Manchester Orchestra). When the Menzingers first announced that they were following up 2012’s monumental On the Impossible Past, many questions were raised regarding the Pinkerton-esque guitar riffs of first single “In Remission,” Rented World’s questionable album art, and whether or not this could possibly lead to Epitaph pairing the band with internet sensation Ronnie Radke for an upcoming tour. Unfortunately for the Menzingers but luckily for everyone else, Rented World leaked nearly a month advance, providing us with the answers we were all searching for and a great sigh of relief.
Let me first address something important: those of you who worship On the Impossible Past (as I do), let it go, because you will undoubtedly be disappointed upon first listens. Throw that mindset aside, and the Menzingers have still released one of the best punk records of the year, expanding upon the softer moments they’ve been building towards as of late as well as writing several of the biggest foot-stomping hooks you’ll hear this summer. “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” gladly takes its place as a career highlight, opening the record almost perfectly with aggressive guitars, plenty of “Whoa’s” and introverted lines like “Always making a mess and stumbling through the door/I don’t wanna be an asshole anymore” and “You’re the only lover I’ve ever missed/and I’ve been hopelessly in love with/Look at this tangle of thorns/I don’t wanna be an asshole anymore.”
The initial shock of Rented World’s potential fails to fade quickly, presenting the listener with two more album highlights, “Bad Things” and “Rodent”. While the former is a downbeat reference to OITP’s “Good Things” and “Nice Things”, the latter expands on its ideas, implementing the same amount of gang vocals but translating the band’s notable live presence into the studio. From here, Rented World’s midsection becomes far spottier than most fans will like to admit; the standout songs are just as strong as anything the band has written to date, but unfortunately, several of the midtempo alt-rock songs here feel thin, flimsy and oddly forgettable in comparison to almost anything from the band’s impressive catalog, a weakness only worsened by Rented World’s muddled production. Each individual listen is a little more forgiving, but while the instrumentals and lyricism are admirable, nothing about songs like “Where Your Heartache Exists” or bloated “Transient Love” find themselves interesting in comparison to the raging anthem that follows, “The Talk”.
Among the album’s second half is what I feel confident calling the band’s magnum opus; “Nothing Feels Good Anymore” takes every element we know the Menzingers for, from soft leads to menacing transitions and melodies, all wrapped up into what is guaranteed to be one of (if not) the best punk tracks of 2014. From this point forward, Rented World is nothing if not incredibly solid, with the impressively wordy “In Remission” showing off one of the band’s crunchiest riffs yet and ending the record on a thoughtful note with the acoustic, Dylan-esque “When You Died”- a dark, existential track that needs to breathe over several listens in order to be appreciated, personal and incomparable to OITP’s “Freedom Bridge” (“Where do people go when they die?/How do you keep them alive?/How do you make sure this never, ever happens again?/Not to any other friend”).
It could be argued that thematic experience that is Rented World is, in almost every way, as ambitious as its predecessor, even if more likely to please fans of Chamberlain Waits. While it may not go down as their definitive effort, I beg to ask another question from both a fan and a critic’s perspective: why does it need to be? With high points like “Nothing Feels Good Anymore” and “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore,” the band has already proven themselves the heavyweight, beer-soaked champions of modern punk rock. If they continue to have it their way, we may find that every year the Menzingers release a new album is a landmark year for the genre.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
- Aaron Mook