Review Summary: most of it was mid
Not to get political or anything, but I was actually a pretty huge fan of Hello Exile
. While much beloved gems from After the Party
like “Your Wild Years” flirted with a full transition into heartland rock, Hello Exile
made Scott Stapp proud and embraced it with arms wide open, its instrumentals shifting ever further away from The Menzingers’ energetic punk roots and into smoggier, more midtempo Pennsylvania ennui territory. Its frankly underappreciated lyricism followed suit, as the drunken, riotous fervor of “Charlie’s Army” and “House on Fire” gave way to the Americana dirge of “I Can’t Stop Drinking”. This transformation was inevitable to scores of the band’s fans, and had been telegraphed throughout the evolution of their discography for quite a while. Nevertheless, backlash persisted, with Hello Exile
easily being the most nonchalantly received of The Zingers’ output since their ascension. I was already a huge fan of the album, but if you disagree with me on that front, Some of it Was True
will still make it seem like the odyssey of a lifetime to you by comparison.
Regardless of your feelings on Hello Exile
, it would still be difficult to deny that it felt, through and through, like a Menzingers record. Even in the midst of exploring a new musical frontier, the band still managed to stamp their distinct shout-along hooks, infectious energy, and boozy, heartfelt lyrical themes on tracks like “Strangers Forever”, “Strain Your Memory”, “London Drugs”, or fan favorite “Anna”. On Some of it Was True
, The Menzingers are wearing Americana like an identity crisis. The album’s lyrics read as if Greg Barnett and Tom May’s intent was to just lean into Springsteen-esque tropes as heavily as possible, which some would argue they’ve done before, but never with this dismissive of an attitude towards quality control.
We drove up to Massachusetts together / your old house was just like you remembered / we stayed in your adolescent room / rummaged through the boxes labeled “former you” - “Your Wild Years”
High low, high low / everybody knows / something just ain’t right / when the lights go out at night -”High Low”
I’m afraid I love someone / who’s in love with someone else / for years I’ve kept it to myself / pretending we are picture perfect -”Hope is a Dangerous Little Thing”
The group’s creative predicament is apparent in these excerpts and many others strewn throughout the album’s runtime, as the decision to trade in all of the personality of a lyrical narrative for rigid allegiance to genre stereotypes sucks all the life out of many of the tracks here. On some occasions, the songs still work because of The Menzingers’ undeniable ability to craft a dynamite melody and knock a chorus out of the park. Previously released single “Come On Heartache” is a perfect example, as is the ensuing “Ultraviolet”, where fans are gifted with some of the best guitar work on the album and a rare appearance of Greg’s lower vocal register.
You’ll notice I haven’t spoken much about the guitars on this album so far.
Yeah, I did notice that! What gives, you elusive slut?
Well, for the most part, the tones on this album sound like ass, which is highly unfortunate due to how fun some of the riffs on here are. This issue is symptomatic of a much deeper rot in Some of it Was True
’s production quality. The band clearly desired a “rawer” sound after working with Will Yip for their past two records, but Brad Cook and the team of engineers responsible for this final product have undeniably missed the mark on how to do that type of sound well. For a good example, you’d need to look no further than the band’s 2010 album Chamberlain Waits
, which featured reasonable leveling, a responsibly in-your-face master, and a distorted guitar tone that didn’t sound like it was being played through a $50 amp. Of particular note on Some of it Was True
are the drums and the vocals, each of which wounded my soul on numerous occasions throughout my listening experience. Jimmy Fallon lookalike contest winner Joe Godino’s snare is so FU
CKING loud on this album and I don’t understand it; the fact that it sounds like wet paper doesn’t help things either. Greg and Tom both sing objectively out of key several times throughout the record, with Tom’s high notes on “Try” actively working against the song’s quality, and Greg’s entire performance on “I Didn’t Miss You (Until You Were Gone)” just being an absolute train wreck. There’s absolutely no way these problems could have made it past the production team unnoticed, which likely means they were intentionally left in the finished product, which is a bruh moment of the highest degree.
Is Some of it Was True
an irredeemable record? Absolutely not; its strongest moments don’t quite stand with the best that The Menzingers discography has to offer, but they’re well worth a listener’s time and showcase the group’s inherent songwriting prowess. What’s sad is to see a band now nearly 20 years into the career suddenly desiring to be entirely different, independent of the type of music they are writing and releasing. Some of it Was True
is an accurate album title, but not quite in the way the band intended; hopefully this identity crisis is resolved sooner rather than later.