Review Summary: A reimagined album which somehow ends up leaving this listener with the same feeling as the original
Thinking about the Menzingers’ 2019 album Hello Exile has always left me with a slightly disgruntled feeling. The band has always been a favorite of mine, and their discography is easily one of the most rock-solid in the modern punk scene. But nonetheless, Hello Exile has always seemed “off” to me, a collection of songs which somehow add up to less together than they do when taken individually. Given this feeling, it’s unsurprising I was excited when I heard that the band was to release From Exile, a reworked album featuring acoustic versions of the original album’s twelve songs. Maybe, just maybe, this new version would unlock the full potential of an initial release which had quite disappointed me…
Unfortunately, that hope wasn’t to be. This isn’t to say that From Exile is a bad album, in fact it’s quite enjoyable and even brilliant at times. But the root causes of my original alienation remain. While the country and folk leanings the band explores on this release generally work well, ultimately From Exile eventually runs right into the same issues I felt regarding the initial version. Basically, the album is simply too uneven to live up to the consistent brilliance which past releases have prompted us to expect from the band.
By my reckoning, there are three sure-fire Menzingers classics on Hello Exile, by which I count Anna, High School Friend, and Farewell Youth. I don’t think the alternate arrangement here does Farewell Youth any favors, but the other two are clear-cut highlights and sound fantastic in their Americana-fueled incarnations.
Beyond that, Hello Exile had a broad middle tier. These are songs which have strong lyrics and nice melodies, but for whatever reason don’t meld into stunning tunes quite like I usually expect from the Menzingers. A couple of the songs in this category, notably “Last To Know” and “Strangers Forever” really hit the spot on this release, but on the other end “Strain Your Memory” is really plodding and dull in its presentation here.
Third and finally, there are the handful of tracks which I’ve never felt approach the usual quality level of Menzingers album tracks. Tunes like “Portland” and “I Can’t Stop Drinking” (which seems to be popular, but I find to be a failed experiment), sadly aren’t able to convert me even in their new versions here.
All the above is to say that while From Exile is a fun and worthwhile reinterpretation of the Menzingers’ previous release, it unfortunately isn’t a revelation either. I could entertain arguments that From Exile is marginally superior or marginally inferior to its parent album, but certainly neither release has a drastic edge on the other. From Exile is an enjoyable listen recommended to the Menzingers’ fans. There’s a few tracks here (notably Strangers Forever) where the new version could become definitive. On the other hand though, some of the tracks really don’t meet the quality of the original (looking at you, Farewell Youth).