The Menzingers released their second album, Chamberlain Waits a decade ago, and what a decade it’s been for them. It was an album that would build the foundation for a small town Pennsylvania-rooted band that would go on to consistently pack venues with fans all over the world.
Chamberlain Waits represents The Menzingers on the cusp of pulling off something truly special. While 2012’s On the Impossible Past is the staple Menzingers album (with After the Party in a close second place), Chamberlain Waits had all of the ingredients of what makes the Menzingers great; Relatable lyrics that set a scene in your head, catchy choruses that make you want to scream them at the top of your lungs and guitar riffs that will hook you in immediately.
Each band member took a giant leap forward musically on this record, and it would go on to set the tone for the group going forward. Guitarist and singer Tom May has consistently gotten better and better with each Menzingers album, both lyrically and musically. You can hear May beginning to come into his own right off the bat on Chamberlain Waits with the opening track “Who’s Your Partner.” Here you have May’s signature singing that eventually leads right into a shout that gives a Menzingers song that extra edge. “Home Outgrown” is also another May highlight on the record.
As you could hear May starting to finding his voice on the opening track, the second song, “I Was Born,” is where you hear guitarist and singer Greg Barnett begin to settle into who he is as a musician as he takes over lead vocals. This song will always be a true jam. Between the relatable chorus of “Sometimes, I feel like I should have said no / I feel like I should have said no” and the epic bridge at the end of the song where Barnett croons “Oh my God, it’s been far too long / Send my thoughts to the firing squad,” this track has all the makings of a Menzingers’ classic. Barnett also shines on tracks like “Deep Sleep” and “So It Goes.”
One of the signature traits of The Menzingers is that there are “Tom songs” where May sings, and there are “Greg songs” where Barnett sings. On Chamberlain Waits, the two harmonize on tracks consistently throughout the album and even team up on certain songs, which they don’t do as much anymore. “Male Call” is special for this reason, as May is the dominant voice of most of the song, before Barnett hops in to sing the “Tom, I can’t ascribe a purpose to this atrocity,” before May takes over lead vocals again on the next line. This song then finishes off with both singers belting out each line together.
Not only do Barnett and May show signs they’re onto something, but this also applies to bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino. Both have shown off their skills of serving as the backbone of several of the Menzingers songs over the years, like when they carry the pulse of “I Can’t Seem to Tell,” or set the heartbeat of “Transient Love.” You start to see the rhythm section of the band get more comfortable here throughout Chamberlain Waits, especially on “No We Didn’t.”
As Chamberlain Waits offered several hints that The Menzingers were on the verge of becoming a band to be reckoned with, there were two songs in particular that had the most evidence of what was to come next for the group. These tracks were “Time Tables” and “Rivalries.”
“Time Tables” is a song rich with details in each vocal, that shows the band coming into their own as songwriters. Whether it’s Barnett name dropping an argument over which Bad Religion album is better, “No Control” or “Suffer,” or meeting at Lake Ariel after midnight, it’s these descriptions of people and places in songs that attract so many to their songs.
“Rivalries” sounds like a song that today would slot in well right between “Sculptors and Vandals” and “Mexican Guitars” on On The Impossible Past. As soon as the song begins, you can hear the excellent scene-setting songwriting play out. Barnett opens the track screaming “I’m gonna walk to the edge of the world /I’m gonna collect everything left that’s scattered / Maybe then, I can mend your wounds / Maybe then, I can mend mine too /’Cause I’m running out of excuses /’Cause I’m running out of time.” The track builds from here, right up to the point where the song comes to close on a powerful note. To this day, “Rivalries” remains a favorite track amongst die-hard fans.
While On The Impossible Past would go on to perfect songs wrapped up in themes nostalgia, love, loss and moving on to a different phase in your life, some of these same ideas first started showing up on Chamberlain Waits. The entire album was about the average person going to college, getting a job, and then becoming just another part of consumer culture. This is perfectly encapsulated in the ending track “Chamberlain Waits.” In the epic gang vocal ending, the band sings “Chamberlain’s waiting down at the bottom of the city of hell / Or heaven itself / As the whistle she sings /My hands building weapons for kings,” referring that idea of working a middle-class job and just being another part of the system.
In two years, there’s going to be a ton of retrospectives and 10th-anniversary articles celebrating On the Impossible Past, as there should, but it would be wrong to overlook Chamberlain Waits. This record showed that there was something great going on with the band, signs they were ready to take the world by storm and capture the love and adoration that would soon follow. On The Impossible Past showed everyone there was something special going on with The Menzingers, while Chamberlain Waits proves it was there all along. “So let these simple songs get caught in our heads.”