“I don’t wanna be an asshole anymore,” sings Greg Barnett on Rented World’s opening track. There are no frills about The Menzingers’ take on torch songs. The band’s apologies are blunt, sincere, and usually at the expense of their pride. Rented World isn’t a pessimistic album, but it’s a moderately self-deprecating account of trying and often failing to be a better person.
The Menzingers have always depicted real-life characters — typically past friends and acquaintances — but on Rented World, dual vocalists Barnett and Tom May are characters themselves. Waitresses and personified DIY venues populated the band’s former work, but Rented World is less nostalgic and more concerned with the present.
Rented World isn’t as consistent as 2012’s stellar On the Impossible Past, but its weaker tracks carry little weight. “The Talk” is regressive, musically, but Rented World largely favors forward-thinking song structures. From the slow-burning progressive radio rock of “Transient Love” to mid-tempo alternative more along the lines of Green Day, The Menzingers continue to mature gradually.
Part of that process involves recognizing former immaturity, which is usually related to times spent being a drunken mess. “In Remission” is the ultimate down-on-your-luck anthem, where the notion of winning the lottery is pathetically small-scale; it’s more akin to keeping an out-of-state, worn scratch-off ticket in your wallet. The simple chord progression and restrained snarl hold “In Remission” together, but self-awareness and a touch of irony render it the most memorable track on the album.
The Menzingers maintain some old habits on Rented World. “Rodent” cleverly understates themes of self-doubt by disguising them with rousing singalong hooks. Addictive guitar melodies are at the center of the similarly heartfelt “My Friend Kyle.” And on the lo-fi acoustic ballad “When You Died,” Barnett questions the injustice of losing good friends while others reap undeserved fortune.
Rented World is an enjoyable punk rock album. Though it doesn’t reach the heights of its genre-defining predecessor, it’s refreshing to hear a band be so forthright in songs about their insecurities.
Rented World is available April 22 via Epitaph Records.
Review by Anthony Glaser