The Menzingers – Chamberlain Waits

Chamberlain Waits coverAt the beginning of the year I made hyperbolic noises about how great this band’s last EP was, and further how great their first album was. An album they wrote when they were eighteen, the lucky¬†foetus-faced bastards. And now here we are, three years on from the release of ‘A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology’ and just under a year on from ‘Hold On, Dodge’.

What’s immediately obvious is that this record is a lot closer to ‘Hold On, Dodge’ than that incendiary first release. As on last year’s EP the songwriting is a more mature, measured and sophisticated affair. The album boasts some fantastic vocal harmonies and the trademark dual guitars, chuggy power chords from one Menzinger complementing intricate and deliberate lead work – which, happily, never strays into masturbatory territory.

The downside, of course, is that with more subtle and considered songwriting you lose the raw passion and intensity, the rough edges and driving simplicity that made me fall in love with ‘A Lesson…’. Of course, it’s an inevitable truth that as musicians become more competent and a band’s members become more familiar with one another, they’re going to want to push themselves further and in new directions. This is no bad thing. If you want to listen to the old songs, listen to the old songs. Otherwise, there’s a lot to fall in love with here too.

Highlights of the album are ‘Time Tables’, a song about love between friends with some exceptional (even for the Menzingers) dual vocals, and ‘I Was Born’ with its wry and self-deprecating line “Oh my God, it’s been far too long / Send my thoughts to the firing squad”. Actually, the Menzingers have a whole lot of highly quotable lines (opener ‘Who’s Your Partner’ throws out “Let these simple songs get caught in our heads” which accurately sums up the band’s chief objective) but when you read the songs in their entirety… well, generously you might say that the band’s lyricist likes to adopt an oblique approach. Less generously, you’d argue that it’s bloody difficult to figure out exactly what a lot of Menzingers songs are about.

That said, there is one obvious emergent theme: disenchantment, particularly with religious and political figures. There’s a very personal approach to the way these themes are tackled; sometimes autobiographical with vague references to events earlier in the singer’s life, and sometimes expression of a personal reaction to official corruption and lies. But there’s a recurrent resignment too; a resentment and anger at the state of the world, with an accompanying acknowledgement that the singer doesn’t have any better answers. It’s a remarkably humble and honest approach. ‘Rivalries’ is a song that to some extent expresses this attitude well: it’s the typical punk rock “going my own way” song but with a twist: that going one’s own way often leads to mistakes every bit as terrible as the alternative. “When life falls apart I’ll eat my words, with insignias for failed ventures.”

Given the album’s title and these central themes of disillusionment you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a post-Obamamania album… the great hope for liberal America turned out as hawkish and corporate as his predecessors. The chamberlain waits, managing the household of corporate America. Of course, given the difficulty of accurately interpreting what some of these oblique songs are about, I could be reading too much into this.

I’d really like to have a Menzingers release that delivered consistently excellent lyrics and explored their subject matter in a more lucid fashion. They blend the personal and political in a way that begs a comparison to Dillinger Four but unlike that band they lack clarity. Despite that, in ‘Chamberlain Waits’ the band have delivered a strong though imperfect release that will likely appear on a lot of year’s best punk rock lists.

The Menzingers @ MySpace | ‘Chamberlain Waits’ @ Red Scare

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