This is the second time I’ve written this review, and initially I tried to be objective and write about Rented World without dwelling too much on its predecessor, which is arguably the best punk-rock album of the last decade, and one of my favourite records of all time behind The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound. I wanted to do what seemingly nobody else was doing and treat Rented World like a stand-alone record, with no presumed assumptions based on the quality of the bands past work, but I couldn’t. There’s a reason On The Impossible Past was released to critical acclaim, and there’s a reason why The Menzingers are currently one of the most popular bands in the scene, and it’s because their last record is truly incredible. Back in 2012 when it was released I was using Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as the inspiration for some coursework I was working on, and I found The Menzingers’ third record during that time, meaning that for a good few months On The Impossible Past and Lolita were dancing in me, and the former still does every time I listen to it. I connected with it immediately, and it ended up sound-tracking a fairly important part of my life, complementing the highs and lows I encountered, meaning I’ll never forget it. Its follow-up, Rented World,isn’t as instantly memorable and neither is it anywhere near as absorbing as either work, but ultimately it’s still a brilliant record and The Menzingers are still one of the best at what they do – if not the best.
Rented World is not On The Impossible Past Pt.2 and that both helps and hinders it. It’s very likely that your perception of the bands third album will greatly effect what you take from their fourth, which is set for release on April 22nd. On Rented World you lose a lot of the character, and in its place you get a much more polished and refined take on punk rock that’s a step back in some areas and a huge leap forwards in others. It’s easy to slate Rented World for lacking what made On The Impossible Past an instant classic, but it’s just as easy to praise The Menzingers for moving on, because at the end of the day Rented World is a first class example of how to follow up the record that will most likely define your entire career without cheapening that record. An exceptional release can put you on the map, but staying there with your next is just as tricky I’d imagine, and Rented World assures that the Pennsylvania natives won’t be fading away anytime soon.
I love Rented World, and although I can’t value it as highly as I’d like to I can still appreciate it for what it is – a progression. With each release The Menzingers have honed their sound, and this theme continues here. A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology was noisy and occasionally lacked identity, whilst Chamberlain Waits found that identity in a more traditional and stellar punk record, before On The Impossible Past settled for a compelling and deep narrative backed up by a passionate delivery. Rented World takes that and tweaks it; it sounds comfortable above all else, or at least as comfortable as a record this unabashedly honest can. It comes across as more focused and driven and it’s a confident record from a band who aren’t about to rest on their laurels and instead make a conscious and inspired effort to push forwards, and does so with immediate effect. Anthemic opener I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore churns with an insatiable energy, featuring riffs, a shout along chorus and some brilliant lyrics (‘Another night I devoured the sun / plunge myself into the depths into oblivion / yeah somewhere along the line I found wine / feels damn good just to bleed sometimes’) and it’s an introduction that wastes no time, setting the tone for the eleven songs that follow, the first of which is Bad Things. This track sounds slightly tame in comparison and it’s the most forgettable on the record – or forgettable by The Menzingers normally high standards – but is easily forgiven as Rented World bounces back with emphatic highlight Rodent which experiments and branches out, pairing a regretful anger with adventurous, swarming instrumentals as the lines ‘Burn the fucker down / I don’t care anymore / I let it all go’ ring out before a huge final minute that begins with a heavy cascade of instrumentals as both vocalists yell ‘I am only bad news’ with trademark The Menzingers zest. It sounds magnificent, capturing everything that makes the band so engaging and channelling it sublimely. Sixth track Transient Love is even better, and could well be the best song the band have ever written, climbing from thick bass and relaxed drums as melodic guitars pierce before eventually leading to a crooning verse with some of Greg Barnett’s best vocals. It marks the longest song the band have released, and it allows for a more expansive track that sees them broaden their horizon as it unfolds, with Barnett singing ‘All I ever wanted was to make things right’ over a comforting bed of rolling, ambient noise. Rented World is the work of a band who know how to write one hell of a song, and they write them consistently here. There’s something about it that sounds very authentic and real, and it makes it a record that sounds much larger than a lot of similar releases. Drummer Joe Godino is fantastic throughout, particularly on Rodent, and be it in the softer, sobering moments (Where Your Heartache Exists) or the more aggressive (The Talk) every song brims with an unrestrained energy and life courtesy of all four members, and regardless of how much you dwell on past releases the music The Menzingers are making currently offers so much more than most artists can dream of in each aspect. For the most part Rented World is a stunning collection of songs, and it leaves a mark for all the right reasons.
The acoustic My Friend Chris is one my favourite songs from the band pre-Chamberlain Waits so I had high hopes for My Friend Kyle – which isn’t directly related – but this song falls a little flat and doesn’t offer many hooks, although it does carry a sound reminiscent of the bands second record well suited to Tom May’s deeper vocals. His vocals have improved immensely and he stands out much more on tracks like Hearts Unknown, whilst Barnett’s vocals are just as good, conveying emotional honesty with an undeniable charm. On past releases I sometimes struggled to differentiate between the two, but that isn’t an issue anymore as both vocalists sound much ‘cleaner’ as a result of Jonathan Law’s production; however some of the passion and energy is slightly diluted, and in this regard the record isn’t as raw. The same could be said loosely about the lyrics, which although still excellently penned lack the depth that they had in the past. There’s still an unerring honesty that punctuates a lot of the tracks, and although it’s still a commentary on American life it isn’t quite as engrossing. Barnett and co. still know how to spin a story, and similar themes are present, but not as many lines stand out as effectively. Although it still takes a listener on a journey through past hardships and current misgivings it doesn’t pull them along in the same way.
The second half of Rented World doesn’t differ massively from the first, which is undoubtedly a positive. Nothing Feels Good Anymore is one of the more personal tracks, delivering exactly what its name suggests as heartbreaks are recapped from a pained perspective, upping the intensity as it progresses, whilst the massive In Remission ups it even more,and it’s another anthem that packs a punch. The tenth track is The Menzingers at their unbeatable best, as the line ‘If everyone needs a crutch then I need a wheelchair / I need a reason to reason with you’ begs for an audience accompaniment, whilst the crashing final minute encourages a riot. Rented World finishes with its most surprising addition, as well as its most moving, as When You Died closes proceedings with a humbling and slightly harrowing finale, asking the questions ‘Oh how can a perfect human run out of luck when there’s just so many horrible people screaming jackpot?’ and ‘Where do people go when they die? / How do you keep them alive?’ alongside an echoing acoustic backdrop. Its delicate nature shows a side to the band which is vulnerable in a different way, and aside from offering a healthy dose of reality it reminds a listener that there’s so much to The Menzingers, and it’s a thoughtful end to a downright triumphant record that also makes me hope that an acoustic version of Rented World follows as On The Possible Past did.
Rented World is pretty much what I expected whilst offering up a little extra, and upon finishing this second-take I find it a shame that the bands fourth effort will perhaps be underappreciated as a result of their third, something I’m guilty of doing myself throughout this review. Oddly enough (although my bias may come into play) Rented World is one of the best punk rock records since On The Impossible Past, and it’s a shining testament to how good The Menzingers actually are. A few weaker tracks provide stumbling blocks along the way, but there’s no doubt that Rented World is an AOTY contender, and you’d be an absolute fool to pass it by.
Rating – 9/10
Listen to: Rodent / Transient Love / In Remission