ALBUM REVIEW: The Menzingers – From Exile (Epitaph Records)

Like most working musicians, blue-collar Philadelphia punks The Menzingers saw their livelihoods wiped out almost overnight when Covid-19 began to spread across the world.

They were on tour in Australia when the world began to ground to a halt, and they were forced to cut the dates short and head home to the United States.

But like many other creative types, they didn’t rest on their laurels when they were stuck at home; instead they about re-imagining their most recent album, 2019’s excellent Hello Exile (reviewed here).

The result, recorded in the four band members’ homes, attics and basements during lockdown, was aptly titled From Exile, and presents the 12 songs in a whole new light.

They recorded their individual parts, shared the results via Dropbox and spliced them back all together.before sending it to friend and close collaborator Will Yip to mix and master.

Singer/guitarist Greg Barnett says they made it up as they went along, and if that’s the case they might want to consider a career in improvisation, as the results are very impressive.

Originally they intended the album to be similar to their acoustic demo collection On The Possible Past, where they presented stripped-down versions of their 2012 masterpiece On The Impossible Past.

They soon realised the songs would benefit from more detailed arrangements, so rewrote, changed keys and melodies, changed the odd lyric, and blended analog and digital instruments in ways they’d never done before.

The Menzingers are known for the frenetic energy of their live shows and catchy, melodic songs full of relatable life experiences, but have shown the strength of their songwriting by reworking these songs, which are still so new they hadn’t even finishing touring them yet.

The running order is the same as the original album, which means it starts with one of its highlights, America (You’re Freaking Me Out), which is transformed from an angry anti-Trump protest song into a mid-tempo country number.

There’s tinges of country and an even stronger strain of Americana running right through the album , along with a huge sense of melancholy, which seems perfect given the circumstances in which it was recorded.

Songs like Strangers Forever and Strawberry Mansion make the transition from noisy guitar rockers to acoustic with such ease that you’d think they’d been written that way, and if you didn’t know you’d certainly never guess that The Menzingers are a punk band.

High School Friend sees Barnett add some aching harmonica behind Tom May heart-searching vocal, while Hello Exile is slowed to a virtual crawl over some plaintive acoustic guitar.

The band engaged the help of friend Kayleigh Goldsworthy to play violin on two tracks, Last To Know and I Can’t Stop Drinking, and such sympathetic treatment completely changes the dynamic of the songs.

Portland is transformed into a chirpy folk song, and is probably my favourite song on From Exile, showcasing May’s vocal superbly, and Strain Your Memory is similarly upbeat.

From Exile is a wonderful listen, whether you’re a Menzingers fan or not. It’s available on 25 September on digital download, with vinyl to follow in November. 8/10.

Gary Welford owner