Review Summary: Not Chamberlain Waits Vol.2., but all the better for it.
If you don't know who The Menzingers are by now, you should. After releasing Chamberlain Waits in 2010 to critical acclaim, the Scranton, PA punk quartet toured internationally with The Gaslight Anthem
and Against Me!
. They captivated listeners with gigantic choruses, melodic gang vocals, and songs catchier than half of The Lawrence Arms
' catalogue. Nonetheless, The Menzingers have proven that they are not afraid to move forward – and on On the Impossible Past, they have certainly taken a very large step in the right direction.
The most important thing to keep in mind when listening to On the Impossible Past – and this will be evident after only a few minutes – is that the album is NOT Chamberlain Waits Vol. 2. Much in the fashion that The Gaslight Anthem
took on 2010's American Slang, the band has chosen to move away from the sound that created something huge (TGA'S The '59 Sound was regarded as one of the finest punk albums of 2008). The Menzingers have created a completely new record that borrows enough of the right elements from Chamberlain to stay relevant, while pushing far enough into melodic territory to shed any shred of doubt left from their mediocre debut release, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology.
Right off the bat, “Good Things” sets the tone of the album. It is clear that the band is moving into a much more melodic direction, and the ensuing tracks are testaments to that. Lead single “Gates” is one of the more heartfelt pieces on the record, borrowing from the sonic nostalgia that they nailed on Chamberlain's “Rivalries”. Vocalist Tom May says of the song: "I hope it surprises people because it's not a straight-forward punk song with gang vocals or anything like that but it still definitely sounds like us." The song is undeniably Menzingers, but it is the stripped-down approach to the music that really defines what On the Impossible Past is all about.
Longtime fans might feel that the band has “cut the balls off”, so to speak – especially when considering how far they've coming since A Lesson. However, On the Impossible Past is not a record about partying, moshing, or drinking livers dry – not unlike contemporaries The Gaslight Anthem, The Menzingers have made the record they needed to in order to mature as musicians and as artists. Nonetheless, On the Impossible Past is undeniably enjoyable – there are moments on this record to make anyone smile. It may not be the best album you hear this year, The Menzingers have taken a step in the right direction and, if they keep it up, are well on their way to cementing their name among the punk greats.