We’re spending the month of December looking back at some of the great new releases that we missed out on reviewing earlier this year. This is The Rest of 2014.
The Menzingers’ Rented World is a reflection on what happens when, after years on the road living the carefree, “fuck you, I’ll do what I want” punk rock lifestyle, you realize that your quest for glorious public self-destruction has had unintended collateral damage. The songs on Rented World are about relationships destroyed by selfishness, and the desperate need to put them back together, stories of heartbreak and redemption and the unavoidable realities of life. It’s grown-up stuff, but The Menzingers are able to present it without sacrificing the fire of youth that’s so essential in creating a punk rock classic.
In the upbeat, kickass leadoff track “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore,” co-lead singer/songwriter Greg Barnett makes a hopeful, heartfelt pledge to be a better partner to someone he’s been treating like shit. “All I ever wanted was to make things right,” sings Barnett, in a line that he will later repeat in the refrain to the side closer “Transient Love.” He’s been a dick, he’s been selfish and stupid and drunk, but now he can see it all clearly and next time around he’ll have the self-awareness to cut that shit out. This theme is found in nearly all of Barnett’s contributions to Rented World, and this song is the perfect kick-off point, setting up the heavy shit for use later while still having a good time.
“Baby, I’m sorry, please take me back” is hardly a new sentiment in popular music, in fact it’s a staple, and it often feels like phony bullshit. It’s an easy score, because face it, there’s something in your heart that desperately needs to hear something like “I was wrong, you were right” from the voice of your desired sex and imagine it’s someone in your past who’s hurt you. That way you can find it in yourself to forgive, or more likely laugh to yourself and say “that’s right, you done fucked up.” But rather than being a selfish plea for forgiveness or a calculated ploy for attention, the desire for redemption that permeates Rented World feels like it’s not just about winning back a single lost love or friend, it’s from the legitimate need to reclaim your own self-worth the right way, the hard way, for you and for them. It’s about honestly accepting the blame for what’s wrong in your life.
Transient love, I was a ghost on your birthday,
I was a runaway, somewhere in a grave of mistake…
Like what if I spent the next few years
just somewhere in some hemisphere
while you’re back home with bills to pay?
I hope it doesn’t end this way.
– “Transient Love”
“I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore,” “Where Your Heartache Exists,” “Transient Love,” and “Nothing Feels Good Anymore,” all featuring lead vocals by Barnett, seem to center around the same shattered relationship and his admission that it’s his fault it fell apart. Each song paints a compelling picture by itself, but together they might just kill you. While “Asshole” is fun as hell, the rest of the story is a lot less hopeful and a lot more miserable. (In my book, this is not a problem. Misery in music is a-okay with this guy.) Mercifully, these four cuts are spread out throughout the album, allowing their recurring themes of guilt and self-exploration to paint the album without encouraging you to paint the walls of your apartment with your own blood.
It helps that even the most depressing songs on the album are gorgeously constructed and recorded. Barnett and co-frontman Tom May are both songwriters at the top of their game, experts at taking dark subject matter like loss of faith or the death of a friend and weaving them into stuff you’d want to sing along to, all the while never trying to disguise that this is some Heavy Shit. May’s “Bad Things” is about someone battling suicidal urges, but the chorus is catchy and memorable. In “Rodent,” Barnett sings “I’ve tried running, I’ve tried hiding/ I’ve tried everything but dying” and the feeling of desperation is real as hell, but the melody behind it makes you want to sing along and understand his pain, and your own, even if your pain is different.
The remaining cuts on Rented World range from more lively compositions like Barnett’s pitch-perfect single “In Remission” or May’s more traditional punk rocker “The Talk,” to more meditative material like “Hearts Unknown” or “Sentimental Physics.” It’s all sing-along-able stuff (though you may want to read through the lyrics, you’re definitely going to get some of it wrong if you learn by ear) that’ll be in your head all
day week year, and despite being about genuinely dark ideas, it’ll leave you feeling good, energized, ready to start over.
The stories on Rented World are often simple but feel rich and complex, demonstrating the sort of bare bones cinematic dream quality of a good Springsteen or Hold Steady album. It’s all incredibly personal, but usually nonspecific. The nameless characters and thinly-described places are instantly made real by the depth of feeling in the music, allowing you to fill the rest in with your friends, your old hangouts, the things you value. Even Barnett’s break-up song cycle leaves enough out that you can easily fit your own life in. (That is, if you’ve ever had your heart broken and been self-aware enough to know that it takes two to tango.)
Is Rented World your story? Probably not. But unless you’re a perfectly well adjusted, self-assured, guilt-free automaton, Rented World should worm its way into your heart and help you express yourself, and you’ll even have a good time doing it.
Rented World is available online or at your local record store.