Review Summary: The all too possible future.
The first time I listened to Rented World
, my inclination was to be disappointed. On the Impossible Past
was my favorite album of 2012, and Rented World
is lacking a lot of the things that I loved about that record. What was the point
of the record? Where was the gorgeous nostalgia of Impossible Past
? This album just sounded so aggressively modern, when all I wanted was for The Menzingers to turn back the clock even more. But when I started to examine my disappointment, I found it to be a knee-jerk reaction. It’s so much easier to be disappointed with something than it is to take the time to fall in love with it.
Still, every time I listen to “My Friend Kyle,” I keep expecting the song to morph into “Come Here Often?” from Chamberlain Waits
, which is an album with some definite weak spots, and the Green Day by way of Jawbreaker sound of “The Talk” tends to sound a little too
simple for my taste, even though I know that’s exactly the point. So I’m still a tiny bit disappointed by the record, but after looking a little deeper and listening a lot harder, I’ve become intimate with its strengths and even a little accepting of its shortcomings.
is not an intimidating album. It doesn’t sound complex at first. But after spending some time with it, I can’t help but hear some big ideas in this album, presented in that inimitable, marble-mouthed Greg Barnett way. These ideas are made more exciting by the way that they are dealt with in the songs. The music is almost reductive at times, but I often find that to be a good thing for modern records, and it makes the lyrics hit like a truck. Rented World
is about relationships, and the band certainly isn’t afraid to get serious, but there is plenty of levity to be found as well. It’s funny and a little tragic that some of the complex relationship problems detailed on the record are distilled into tongue-in-cheek one-liners (“I don’t wanna be an asshole anymore,” “I have only bad news for you,” several iterations of “I only wanted to make things right/better.”). But part of the reason Barnett uses such lines is to underscore how pathetically incapable he is of fixing things, and how often people turn mean or sarcastic when they only want to do the opposite. “If everyone needs a crutch, then I need a wheelchair,” he sings on “In Remission,” and there is an undeniable sadness to even a line like that.
As serious as the lyrics are at times, the music remains as catchy as ever. I called it reductive earlier, but it wasn’t an insult. Rock and punk bands sometimes fall into the trap of having the lyrics serve the music instead of the other way around, but The Menzingers have bucked that trend time and again. There isn’t as much outright variety as there was on Impossible Past
, but there are subtle refinements that make Rented World
perhaps the most musically solid album the band has released. “Rodent” is about as catchy as songs get, especially the mini-choruses that appear midway through each verse, and "Where Your Heartache Exists" contains a melody so insidiously subtle that you won't even realize how great it is until it's been stuck in your head for hours. “Transient Love” features one of the best buildups in recent memory, and it’s made more effective by not containing a true release. Barnett sings about making things right, about how hard he’s trying, and - most tellingly - the many awful ways that relationships can end. He sings about the ways we can avoid them. He sings about the ways we fail to do so. And the music offers no advice, building and building to a climax that seems inevitable but never actually comes. Once Barnett is done singing, the music plateaus and then gradually coasts to an end, and it was that moment, I think, where I began to see the complexities inherent in this simple music. Narrative climaxes are for movies. “Transient Love” is real life: no resolution, no right answer.
One of the album’s major themes seems to be how we facilitate the coming of the end by trying to avoid it. So it’s interesting that the album ends with the questions that arise after death - the ultimate end - becomes a part of life. “When You Died” is basically one long musing about how to keep a relationship from ending, how to keep someone from dying, how to keep yourself from forgetting them after they’re gone, how to stop every good and nice thing from turning into something bad. True to form, there isn’t an answer, and putting much thought into it while listening to the album would mean veering dangerously close to pretension. And given that The Menzingers are one of the least pretentious bands out there, it makes you wonder if all this thinking about the meaning of things is superfluous. Why can’t it ever be enough to enjoy something? Better yet, why does enjoyment have to be simple? Think about something you love and why you love it. Try to give an accurate summation of why
, preferably in one sentence. If you can do it, then you probably don’t love it as much as you thought. This endless quest for a “point” to art is destined to be fruitless and a little sad, because there is an inevitable loss associated with the finding (and that’s only if
you find a kernel of meaning). I could listen to Rented World
ten times a day for three months - closely
listen - and perhaps tell you what it means at the end, but I’d most likely hate the album by then, and my explanation of what it means would make you hate it too. The solution, it seems then, is to not think at all, but just to listen. And the point of all this is that even though listening seems easy, it isn’t. It’s the first step to falling in love, and anyone who tells you that falling in love is easy is full of shi
t. The Menzingers can vouch for that. But part of the great mystery of it all is that striving too hard for it often makes you fail too. Rented World
, more than anything else, is a record about how hard it is to be satisfied with not knowing the ending, and just how hideously beautiful it can be to finally witness the ineludible flames.