Philadelphia punks The Menzingers are gearing up for the release of their fifth studio album, “After the Party,” coming February 3, 2017. They’ve released two singles from the record thus far, “Lookers” and “Bad Catholics,” and on the whole, they bode very well for the project.
The first of the two songs to drop is by far the more conventional single. Opening quietly on Greg Barnett’s reverb-drenched vocals and guitar, the intro sets up a wistful scene of looking back on old photos. The rest of the band comes in and kicks it into double-time, driving the song into the kind of upbeat, bittersweet, melodic groove which returning fans will remember from their third record, “On the Impossible Past.”
“Lost in a picture frame / the way my body used to behave / the way I smiled in the moment / before it permanently froze,” Barnett sings, on the heels of a typically catchy lead guitar riff. The group has always been adept at tapping into nostalgia in new and ever more compelling ways, and this track is no exception.
Throughout the song, the lyrics tell the story of wondering what happened to a girl you used to know, and longing to be youthful again—nothing groundbreaking, but it’s more than passable, propelled by some excellent vocal harmonies and delivered with the emotionalism and catharsis that make pop-punk great. It’s easy to imagine dancing to this song at a live show, and it’s hard to take it off repeat when listening alone.
“You little Kerouac / always running like Dean and Sal / Always waiting on a freight train / Always looking for a story to tell,” Barnett sings, injecting the song with the kind of literary significance that has always given Menzingers lyrics a little more substance and self-awareness than the typical lovelorn rock routine.
The slick guitar work and sing-along chorus (with a “sha-la-la-la” thrown in for good measure) make for great listening; “Lookers” begs the question of whether the party is actually over yet or not on this record. For all their moodiness, the Menzingers are a ton of fun, in spite of themselves.
In terms of the band’s catalogue, “Lookers” is an instant classic, and a reason to get excited for the new album.
The second single isn’t as instantly memorable. The recurring power chord riff doesn’t have the impact it feels like it was meant to; there’s a hollowness to it which isn’t quite fulfilled by the rest of the track. The beat drives hard enough, and you can bob your head to it, but something is missing.
Lyrically, the song creeps into some new territory for the group. It tells the familiar punk story of goofing off, getting high, and having run-ins with the police, but frames it as a memory of a pat life dredged up by seeing someone you grew up with at a church picnic.
“Bad Catholics, weren’t we darling? / Always dipping out before communion started,” goes the song’s chorus. At times like this, the young punk narrative almost feels like a crutch (or a defense mechanism). The religion angle is more interesting, but you get the impression the band isn’t going to commit to approaching it, leaning instead on a tried and true formula.
It’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t land like it could have.