Anyone familiar with modern punk could’ve seen this coming a mile off. If anything, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen closer to The Menzingers’ commercial peak on After The Party, but Gregor Barnett’s jolt of pandemic-fuelled inspiration is just as familiar as the punk-frontman-goes-solo routine. It more than likely would’ve been superior to the typically drained ‘lockdown album’ formula on its own—given that Barnett as a songwriter’s songwriter would’ve excelled in this exact situation—but it might as well be a Menzingers project by any other name with just how collaborative it is. Eric Keen and Joe Godino provide bass and additional percussion respectively, and Tom May produced the artwork, and as such, while Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave is indeed its own thing in how much more closely linked to Barnett creatively it is, the accompanying Menzingers magic doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s still the most natural thing in the world, obviously; the scene-setting and flavourful detail adorn The First Dead Body I Ever Saw and Hurry Me Down To Hades, with Barnett’s usual literacy sounding as at home as ever. But the narrowed, personal focus is there among it all, in Talking To Your Tombstone and At A Greyhound Station, Desperate that play out as vignettes of muddling through loneliness and uncertainty that resonate more deeply on this one-man level. To call Driving Through The Night a Menzingers carryover wouldn’t be unfair or wrong (especially when it’s still a good song), but the distance that it feels from the rest of the material here is noteworthy. The smaller perspective is what gives Barnett such a considerable edge, not just in hacking through ‘quarantine album’ barriers with unmatched swiftness, but also just in making excellent music.
And yeah, this is more or less what one would expect from this particular album from this particular artist, but to underestimate the aforementioned Menzingers magic is really doing this a disservice. It dials down the punk to let the dusty, salt-of-the-earth alt-rock shine on the wearied stomp of Oh Lord, What Do You Know? and the darkened, Western guitar dirges of The First Dead Body I Ever Saw and Hurry Me Down To Hades. It’s never unrecognisable though, in clear throughlines on Talking To Your Tombstone and Anthem For The One I Love that feel just tweaked enough to be their own thing, but are well aware of the resilience of the DNA they’re founded on. As such, it sounds a bit older and less bracing in its progressions, but that’s ultimately by design; in the thicker bass and cymbals of No Peace Of Mind To Rest and the pianos against the drier guitars of Guest In Your House, there’s a core built to ruminate and breathe. Barnett really commands that tone too, his slightly quivering vocal tone leaving enough of the frays and imperfections around the edges to sound unmistakably human, such is the driving mood of this album. There’s barely a glimpse made at pretension or by-committee assemblage of any kind, a factor that can easily be attributed to Will Yip as the producer du jour for punk and punk-adjacent music heavily driven by its personal stakes, and coupled with Barnett’s own heavy lifting makes for an alchemy responsible for the easiest of home runs. Even as more of a spin-off from The Menzingers than a true independent side-venture, Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave uses that to its advantage in access to the same well of inspiration, one that’s clearly not running dry, nor even in danger of such a thing. Barnett is as creatively fruitful as ever, and even in the step over to solo status, he’s not missed a beat.
For fans of: The Menzingers, Brian Fallon, Dan Campbell
‘Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave’ by Gregor Barnett is released on 18th February on Epitaph Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall