Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Menzingers - 'Chamberlain Waits'

The Menzingers have steadily built a fan base since the release of their debut, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology. Occupying space somewhere between the Clash and Billy Bragg, the group’s live shows are frequently filled with anthems, humor and positive vibes. Sophomore album Chamberlain Waits shows the group’s knack for penning passionate political missives is still burning. During the 30 minutes the record occupies, everything in the universe is A-OK.

Chamberlain Waits is the logical follow-up to Lesson, in that A) the tunes are still folk-tinged punk gems, B) the production got better and C) this stuff makes me choose life. The group still knows when to toss out a Bragg-style solo number (“Male Call,” in this case). Dudes could drop their own Talking With the Taxman About Poetry and I don’t think anyone would object. And they still capture the Clash’s spirit. Not so much the sound – there’s not enough bile or Jamaican influences to directly capture that group’s various sounds – but the furious playing and vocals that alternate from barking to harmony at every turn certainly recall Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.

There are differences, of course, but they’re subtle. The recording quality shot up a bit thanks to Matt Allison (Alkaline Trio, Lawrence Arms). The lyrics sound wearier (especially on “Home Outgrown,” with its realization of “My heroes / I have forgotten them”). The hooks take slightly longer to bury themselves…by which I mean it might take two spins instead of one to realize that this is the punk album to beat in 2010.

Most listeners will probably get on board during that first listen, though. “Who’s Your Partner” opens with chugging guitars and a hypnotic 4/4 bass drum ‘n’ toms beat. By the time the group sprinkles on a pinch of feedback, heads will be bobbing. Some fans might even vow to let “these simple songs get caught in our heads” before the band says the same thing. “Who’s Your Partner” is just the opening salvo in a long line of triumphant jams. “I Was Born” should be familiar to those who picked up the group’s digital single last month. “Home Outgrown” is a sad song that’s really, really catchy, so it evens out.

The album keeps dishing out the hits after that. From the dance-punk-y “Deep Sleep” to the closing title track, Chamberlain Waits is a fat-free throat-scraper, and yet another reminder to catch the group’s live shows.

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