Review Summary: "Coz I cursed my lonely memory with picture-perfect imagery".
Ever since their inception in 2006, The Menzingers did not quite seem like your average punk-rock band. Sure, their debut LP 'A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology' was as uneven and raucous as what their peers were releasing, while follow-up 'Chamberlain Waits' added the necessary dose of melody and anthemic sing-alongs. Yet, there was something bubbling underneath the surface which suggested that the Pennsylvanian quartet had greater ambitions. Maybe it was incorporating lyrics concerning Greek mythology, 19th century poems and World War II sieges, or it could have possibly been the mesmerizing tones of their fantastic guitar lines. Whatever it was, the next step of their fascinating progression is laid bare on third LP 'On the Impossible Past'; a compelling album which is rich in storytelling and follows the nostalgic, Americana themed template set down by New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem.
Here, it is in the song-writing which The Menzingers have undoubtedly grown markedly since their critically acclaimed second album. This is immediately evident from the brief, ironically titled opener 'Good Things', where reflective pessimism is expertly delivered in alternately lethargic and passionate fashion. Successor 'Burn After Writing' references the "blue cotton dress" from 2010 track 'Time Tables', while the titular device of 'The Obituaries' is used effectively in conjunction with one of the album's few true shout-along moments. Immersive storytelling is the name of the game here, and the listener is often transported back to a time and place where "American muscle cars" were today's smart-phone, while diner waitresses were anything but ignored. "Dreaming the dream, singing songs of another time" states 'Nice Things', with 'Gates', 'Mexican Guitars' and vocal highlight 'Casey' especially following that thematic motif. In fact, it could be argued that limiting their tales to such a setting may have an adverse effect on international and/or younger listeners being able to empathize.
Since the song-writing is clearly the focus of 'On the Impossible Past', it is often more difficult to penetrate from a musical standpoint. Whether intentional or a by-product of signing to Epitaph Records, one cannot help but feel that this talented quartet are capable of better. While the accomplished rhythm section provides an ever-sturdy backbone, very little is ground-breaking and often blurs into the mix. Of more contention is the dual guitar work which was such a strength of 'Chamberlain Waits'. While no less captivating here, the discordant, more electrified production adversely affects their tone noticeably, resulting in a few too many unmemorable melodies. The 42 minute duration also allows for some interesting experimentation, even if it is to mixed results. For instance, the near spoken-word delivery of the verses to 'I Can't Seem to Tell' work better than the awkward dual-tempo loudness of 'Ava House'. The Menzingers also integrate classic rock and classic punk influences on a tune such as 'Sun Hotel', while the beginning of 'The Obituaries' even reminds of The Who.
With its generally mid-tempo pace not being as strikingly immediate as 'Chamberlain Waits', 'On the Impossible Past' does not reach the individual heights of its predecessor. No chorus is as catchy as that of 'Who's Your Partner?', while no guitar line bests what 'Deep Sleep' has to offer. Where this album bridges the quality differential is the way in which its meticulous song-writing enhances both cohesiveness and replay value. Subtle factors such as the dual vocals of Tom May & Greg Barnett, and the poetic fashion in which raw emotions are delivered, mean there is much more layered complexity evident than first meets the ear. It really is difficult not to compare the two LPs side by side, since many will feel that combining their strengths would have resulted in an 'Album of 2012' contender. Yet, making such a jump in growth may have been over-ambitious, meaning 'On the Impossible Past' is exactly the album The Menzingers needed to record in the present. What results is another quality release that cannot help but make music fans excited for what this gifted outfit are to bestow upon us on their next offering.
Recommended Tracks: The Obituaries, Gates, I Can't Seem To Tell & Casey.
Hear ye, hear ye: Kiran approves. You may now listen. Oh, hang on a tic, maybe it's my review that he approves of. Ok, just to make sure we have all bases covered... Hear ye, hear ye: Kiran approves. You may now read my review & then listen.
Thanks clercqie. I actually feel many will like this more than we did, but a 3.5 is no negative rating at all.
Unsure I would use the word "standard" because of the song-writing factor. In many way, I compare this album to 'War Paint' by The Dangerous Summer... The band have improved the song-writing, but at the slight expense of the whole picture (that was what I was trying to get at by quoting that lyric in the summary).
But I do agree about the "in retrospect" part. I almost wanted to like/respect 'Chamberlain Waits' more than I initially did after listening to this album. I really feel it means that their next album could be "THE ONE".
You've been here? Cool! And don't feel sorry, the average Joe around here (including me) doesn't really speak the two languages as well.
I'd really like to go to Australia/NZ someday, but it's a pretty expensive trip... I have two friends who are roadtripping through Australia for a year, pretty adventurous stuff. Needless to say I'm jealous