Music Reviews
Hello Exile

The Menzingers Hello Exile

(Epitaph) Rating - 5/10

It’s easy to understand the appeal of The Menzingers. With 2017’s After the Party, the Scranton, Pennslyvania four-piece asked the question that many disillusioned punks felt: “What are we going to do now that our twenties are over?” It rang through Tellin’ Lies, the opening track off of that album, which was the peak of their career so far. With After the Party, it felt like they perfected a style of writing that they had been building up to for a while. The Menzingers bring their best to Hello Exile, a fine, but slight album that can’t help but stand in the shadow of its predecessor.

It makes sense that America (I Love You but You’re Freaking Me Out) was a single, because aside from the political message there, it’s a platonic ideal of a song off of Hello Exile. From the crunchy and punchy guitars that kick off the track to the delicate lead parts that lack a sturdy hook, the steady energy here can be found across the entire album. Thematically, America hits an intriguing sweet spot for their songwriting—they're great at combining the dissatisfaction of those 30-year-old punks with the disillusionment towards our political climate with raw execution. The song would be legitimately great if not for the plodding and joyless instrumentation backing it.

A handful of other songs here have the same stable energy of America, but none of them really stand out. Strangers Forever is a nonstarter, taking a formula that’s worked for the band before with uninteresting drumming, acoustic guitars chugging along in the verses, and a soaring chorus. Portland has a rallying call of “Bring the part of me you love back” in the chorus, but it feels more juvenile than usual—with vocals that feel whinier than ever. Still, these tracks do have a few bright spots, particularly Farewell Youth, where a fitting sense of melancholy permeates through the closing track. Similarly, there’s Anna, where a strong melody seeps in and the chorus hits with power; the lyrics in the chorus are sold particularly well, where the line “please come back to Philadelphia” is sung with such a genuine plea that it’s striking.

My favorite thing about The Menzingers is how they’ve always been great at writing about nostalgia. In After the Party, tracks like “Lookers” and Your Wild Years looked back with 20/20 vision, lamenting their past with self-awareness. Something seems astray on High School Friend, a song that is appropriately melancholic and lived-in, but for once, it seems as if the song is written through rose-tinted glasses. It feels like as the narrators of these songs grow older, they grow less aware of how pathetic a line like “wondering where all the good times went” can seem. On that previous album, The Menzingers established themselves as a group interested in moving forward—even if they wrote about those high school days. Hello Exile fails to follow through on that promise.