The Menzingers

On The Impossible Past

Written by: TL on 28/02/2012 14:10:43

Before you read this review, if you haven't heard the new Menzingers album "On The Impossible Past", please leave this page and don't come back till you've heard it at least a handful of times. I will explain further down. If you have heard it, you will probably already know that The Menzingers are a north-east quartet - they're from Scranton, Pennsylvania - who exploded into the sound we've come to call mid-west punk rock with their 2010 sophomore LP "Chamberlain Waits" and since then, avid fans have waited anxiously to see if the band could be just as good on their next album.. And well.. You know how many American writers through the times have dreamt of writing their own 'Great American Novel'? "On The Impossible Past" could very well be a 'Great American' punk-rock record. The only thing wrong with saying this is that "On The Impossible Past" doesn't exactly manifest the current American zeitgeist, rather it brings to life a romantic vision of all things American. From the beginning of opener "Good Things" to the ending of closer "Freedom Bridge", The Menzingers put you right there in a world of chrome diners, cheap cigarettes, budweisers, falling in love with waitresses and driving off to Mexico, all of it rolled on your mind's inner film reel, like worn celluloid from a nostalgic past era.

Reading the positive angle I'm taking on this, you may object that bands like The Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus have done something similar in recent years, and indeed, The Menzingers are quite similar to bands like those in a number of ways, but with all due respect for those bands and their fine releases, "On The Impossible Past" is better because it is an album in all the ideal aspects of the word. The style is classic pop-punk - and I mean classic in the Social Distortion-sense of the term - being all melodic and sentimental yet raw around the edges and full of drive and energy, and from the opening lines of "I've been having a horrible time, putting myself together" the band uses it masterfully to get you hooked on stories of love and loneliness, regret and remembrance. These stories are told through songs that often abandon conventional song structure completely, yet still take you by the ear and lead you from hook to hook to hook to hook, in a way artists in any genre dream of doing.

And of course there are highlights, like the unshakable resignation in lines like "You'll carve your names into the Paupack Cliffs just to read them when you get old enough to know that happiness is just a moment" or "I'm walking up to your gates again, to throw my lonely soul away, 'cause I don't need it, you can take it back", from "Gates", or "I'm pretty sure this corner of the world is the loneliest corner in the whole world" from "Sun Hotel" - a song that soon explodes in an outburst of painful emotional catharsis going "I will leave you alone! I will leave you alone, and you will leave me alone!". Of course there are highlights like those, but really, they're only symptomatic of an album that, despite it's creative song structures, will offer you at least two or three singalongable moments per song, bolstered greatly by the extremely soulful singing of guitarist/vocalists Greg Barnett and Tom May, who have between them the abilities to sound both as rough and powerful as any modern Chuck Ragan wannabe, and as moody and full of yearning as Morrissey in his The Smiths years (see: title track "On The Impossible Past"), and who must be awarded great commendation for hardly ever slurring a line of lyrics beyond the point where the listener can still easily follow what's being sung.

To reduce "On The Impossible Past" to just an incredibly consistent array of hooks however, would be to disenchant a record that is much more magical than that. It merely defies description how, even though I've never been to America, never driven a muscle car, never smoked a cigarette and never loved a waittress, the melodies The Menzingers craft here put me right there in a story which I don't want to end. This record's worth of songs, quite simply, is of the rare kind that can bear you listening to it without doing anything else at the same time, and bear you doing so over and over and over again for weeks, and can bear being picked up again months from now - hell, years from now, and being given the same treatment. Oh and did I mention that it's also wonderfully diverse in terms of tempos and dynamics? It is.

Now, to get down to the business of grades, I actually hate giving The Menzingers the grade I think they deserve for "On The Impossible Past", because I know that when you people read it, you will probably approach the albums with either unmeetable expectations, or merciless scepticism. This is why I hope you followed my initial advice, and went ahead and checked it out before reading the entire review (of course you didn't), because it would be an injustice to this record if we proceed to sit in the comments and discuss whether it's a 10 or a 9½ or an 8. It would be cheapening the moment of a release that I'm sure we can all agree is at least pretty God damn great. So how about we all make peace on that more bendable evaluation and then I just give you my own personal one here: If it's possible to write a better punk-rock record, please point me in its direction, because from where I'm standing, "On The Impossible Past" sounds like solid gold, and my mind will be blown if it does not still top my list come the end of this year.


Download: Gates, Sun Hotel, Mexican Guitars, Casey
For The Fans Of: The Gaslight Anthem, Red City Radio, Titus Andronicus, Social Distortion, Off With Their Heads

Release Date 21.02.2012
Epitaph Records

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