By now, The Menzingers’ run of quality needs no introduction. Everyone knows where the most important touchstones sit—they established themselves as a true force in alt-punk with On The Impossible Past in 2012; they arrived at their undeniable opus After The Party in 2017; they proved that sort of excellence could indeed be maintained on Hello Exile in 2019. All of that is while remaining exceedingly homespun and humble, the calling card of US punk lifers that The Menzingers had perfected a good few album cycles ago. Indeed, there was a time when no one was penning anthems about existential ennui from careening past youth in an ever-uncertain world that could even touch theirs.
That time, however, is not now, as The Menzingers’ stint as heirs apparent has since been overturned by the arrival of Spanish Love Songs, and the stranglehold that they’ve since wrought on alt-punk (and punk as a whole, honestly). Not that that’s any kind of failing on The Menzingers’ part, mind. There are countless worse bands to be overtaken by, and at least it takes their like-clockwork approach to smashes and shakes up the circumstance a bit. For the first time in a long time, The Menzingers are releasing an album as a more settled presence in the scene, as opposed to its outright vanguards. Maybe calling it a ‘test’ is pushing it a bit—this is still The Menzingers, after all—but a little bit of resistance never hurt anyone’s creative process.
And besides, the pedestal they’ve got is still ridiculously high; they’ve not fallen that far down. And for what it’s worth, Some Of It Was True still carries much of their usual excellence, as a culmination of over a decade’s worth of of leading presence remains in some form. The difference is how it’s been redirected and reshaped to where this is kind of a different approach to the usual Menzingers formula, albeit not in a way to where it’s indistinguishable. If you’ve been on this train for the years in which The Menzingers have been driving it, Some Of It Was True will chug forth for you as reliably as always, where any dips in pace might not even be noticeable.
With that in mind, it needs to be stressed that this isn’t some bold, grand reinvention ready to rend the fanbase in twain. The Menzingers are ultimately doing what they do best once again, and continuing to live up to their set track record that many others would find unassailable. Some Of It Is True, as always, overflows with the heart and the earnestness that all bands like this are unwaveringly founded upon, fielded by alt-punk with its spirit rooted in America’s heartland and the sense of liberated inertia that instills. In other words, it sounds massive by every count in which The Menzingers’ past works have, and it’s nowhere close to getting played out. There’s just a way of making it work that this band has so intrinsically tapped into, on songs like Hope Is A Dangerous Little Thing and Ultraviolet that sound great both in spite of and because of how familiar they are.
But that’s also where Some Of It Was True throws out its first curveball, namely in how The Menzingers have begun to play around with what this sort of thing lets them do. Don’t panic—this is still unequivocally recognisable as them; it’s just that the pliability of it all is tested a bit more, often to strong effect. There’s some dabbling with scratchy folk texturing overlaid on Nobody Stays and I Didn’t Miss You (Until You Were Gone), and a dusty alt-country clop to High Low that’s even more indicative of the open-plains vibe of it all. Meanwhile, there’s a coursing thrust to There’s No Place In This World For Me and different shades of Springsteen pained over Come On, Heartache and Alone In Dublin, the latter even occasionally crossing into something Sam Fender might peel out on his best days. All the while, the soul of The Menzingers stands tall and stridently within, mostly in how this selection of vehicles for similar passion and human aspect reach the same end with little deviation.
In general, the sense that is, in fact, The Menzingers broadening their reach is more or less immaterial because of that. In the same way that Gregor Barnett’s also-excellent solo album Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave last year felt like a variation on the theme that could slot among the ‘regular’ inclusions, so too does Some Of It Was True. Furthermore, Barnett being a consistent thread across all points definitely helps, as the tremble in his voice has become something of a standard within The Menzingers and their adjacent work, if only for some extra shorthand for the emotional depths being plumbed. If anything, Some Of It Was True brings to light the extent of its effectiveness; it’s more pronounced than ever for the most part, and when it’s substituted for a strange flatness on Love At The End, the dip taken is palpable.
Fortunately, that happens in extremely limited quantities; the ample amount of experience at alt-punk gut-punches expectedly prevails. Though here, there’s another reshuffling of the deck going on, largely in how the aforementioned settled feeling has fed into the general context of these lyrics, without locking down too much of the actual text. In keeping with the feeling of a band who seem to age about a decade between albums, Some Of It Was True is more concerned with the personal stakes in adult life, rather than the rocky roads to get there. It’s bitten by self-deprecation, loneliness and criticism, a lot of in post-relationship fatigue that serves as a different kind of melancholy than The Menzingers’ broader scale typically offers. Of course, it’s all played in the mould of timeless Americana and salt-of-the-earth poetry that’s always coloured The Menzingers, in all forms. Barnett cuts a disheveled figure excellently, as the spectre of ageing takes old and pinches and niggles at doubts seeded in a younger mind, but have fully taken root now. It also decries a lot of the nostalgia that so much of The Menzingers’ best work has been based on, not necessarily retooling them, but redressing them to add a heaviness and dourness that’s a really compelling angle for them.
It’s compounded by the sense of universality that this music so often extols, to where it’s never bogged down or overweighted by a portentousness it can’t reasonably back up. Sure, there are darker shades at play—when your opening pair of songs is called Hope Is A Dangerous Little Thing and There’s No Place In This World For Me, you’ve nailed your colours to the mast pretty firmly—but it’s not bleak, per se. On Come On, Heartache, there’s a tone of resignation and pleading tiredness most in line with The Gaslight Anthem or even Tom Petty in how its specks of shine peer out. Alone In Dublin, on the other hand, is the blustery, melodic ripper that couldn’t be deeper in The Menzingers’ wheelhouse, in which its melancholy is cushioned by its own anthemia and terrific songwriting (just try to top the phrase “jingle-jangle jargon” in a song this year, lyricists). Finally, Running In The Roar Of The Wind wraps the album up on notes that are equally sombre, stark and shimmeringly hopeful, in which the clarity of everything manifests in a line as beautifully simplistic as “It’s so hard to be hopeful, but I promise you, I’ll try”.
It’s the kind of thing that really defines how wonderful The Menzingers are, the juxtaposition between sweeping power and inimitable moments of human intimacy that they’ve undeniably mastered by now. Even if they’re no longer the absolute top dogs of their scene, that can’t be denied, nor can how Some Of It Was True remains as potent an example as ever of it at full capacity. There’s no danger of The Menzingers losing it now, not by any stretch. They’ve become so reliable and set the bar so high for themselves, in a combination of attributes that’s pulled off with aplomb every time. Thus, Some Of It Was True is just the latest glistening gem to add to their collection, and a testament to how one band’s forward motion can vastly eclipse practically everyone else’s with ease.
For fans of: Spanish Love Songs, The Gaslight Anthem, Hot Water Music
‘Some Of It Was True’ by The Menzingers is released on 13th October on Epitaph Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall