By Nick Boyd, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 27, 2014
Are you from Scranton, Pennsylvania? If you answered “no,” congratulations! If you answered “yes,” I’m sorry. Don’t worry, The Menzingers also originate from Mordor and they share your frustration with life.
Their latest album, Rented World, continues the band’s tradition of making punk music with a folk spin. Given their unique approach, The Menzingers are difficult to classify under a single genre. Rented World is a diverse ride — most tracks possess a distinctly punk flavor, but they also each have their own personalized vibe that separates them from the rest of the punk anthology. The Menzinger’s greatest strength is their refusal to be pigeonholed — and what’s more punk than that?
The Menzingers is composed of four dudes — lead singer Greg Barnett, Tom May, Eric Keen, and Joe Godino. However, this is not their first rodeo together. The group originally worked together as part of the legendary Scranton ska band Bob and the Sagets. Shockingly, Ol’ Bob and his band of Sagets did not live a long life together. But like a phoenix, Bob (Greg), and three of the four original Sagets rose from the ashes and were reborn as The Menzingers in 2006. Since then, the band has released four albums under various labels. Their most recent release prior to Rented World was On the Impossible Past , released in 2012.
Fast forward to 2014, and Rented World opens with the subtly titled track, “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore.” Despite the cavalier name, the song establishes the thematic thread for the rest of the album — the recognition of past mistakes and the search for new beginnings. The song’s chorus, “Baby, baby, I’ll be good to you, I don’t wanna be an asshole anymore,” leaves your soul glowing with angsty empathy, like a red, itchy nose during allergy season. Other than being a source of thematic context, the opener is nothing special compared to the rest of the album — instrumentally, vocally, and lyrically, the album ebbs and flows in terms of quality, but is in most part, an improvement upon the first track.
The third track off the album, “Rodent,” displays The Menzingers’ gift for creating melodic and transcendent punk fusion. Compositionally, the song is impressive. The transitions are fluid, and the guitar riffs, while simple, are catchy and original. Lyrically, the song is far more complex than the first track, and is a poetic achievement in its own right. The opening verse juxtaposes two interesting sequences. The first line in the series is, “In the walls held captive, lives a mouse, who I don’t have the guts to kick out,” and the second is, “In the box where I live, lives someone, who I would’ve hated when I was young.” To tie it all together, the choral line is, “Me and the rodent in the wall, have more in common after all.” Barnet proclaims, “Never again, will I love someone close to me.” The listener is led to believe lost love has led Barnet to feel as emotionally stranded as the mouse is physically. That’s some pretty deep shit for someone who once belonged to Bob and the Sagets.
“Rodent” isn’t unique in terms of content — much of the album seems to be a dialogue between Barnett and an ex-lover. Given that emotional foundation, Rented World isn’t exactly the feel-good album of the summer. And nor should it be. It’s raw. It’s real. It may be profane and strained at times, but it’s poetic in its own Bob Saget-Rodent-Asshole kind of way. The Menzingers are gifted musicians, and great storytellers — it may be intense, but it’s relatable, and that’s what makes good songwriting.