The chorus of Brand New’s latest vaguely-proper single, “Mene,” mainly consists of “we don’t feel anything.” It’s an odd line from the band that have made their careers from Jesse Lacey’s raw emotion, a band that have repeatedly found critical acclaim in their most vulnerable moments.
It’s a song about fear and guilt, and Jesse sings “we don’t feel anything” again and again, like repetition might make it more true, and it might feel like denial, distancing, but the line that leads into it is “what sings to you when you disconnect” and that’s something else.
There’s a longing for forgetfulness in this song, “the ocean never sleeps or dreams” and “come gather now and lay this beast to rest” and it’s an odd song for a first single off what will presumably (eventually) be an album, because it feels like a goodbye. There’s been an awful lot of cryptic hype that suggests that this could well be the last Brand New album (although who really knows with these guys), and fans seized upon lines like “not gone but fading fast” as a suggestion of their future breakup. If this is It, then it’s hard not to see “Mene” as looking back at a legacy. We were what sang to you when you disconnected, perhaps, but we can’t be that any longer. Or, we used to have that, used to have something that sang in our veins and hearts. Or maybe it’s a question – what sings to you when you disconnect, give me your secrets and hopes and the light in your eyes because I’m slipping, floating free –
It’s odd, the use of the plural pronoun. “We” could be anyone: it could be the band, it could be a generation, and when preceded with the personal confession of guilt that is this is my own fault it jars, suggesting that it is Jesse’s fault we don’t feel anything. The “we” should be inclusive, but the audience are always “you”, both questioning and questioned. The “you”s in Brand New are often aggressive or accusatory, “is that what you call a getaway//I’m sick of your tattoos and the way you always criticise The Smiths//you’re just jealous cause we’re young and in love”, and we’re used to that, that edge of uncomfortableness, of forcing yourself on the other side of that ‘you’ to become the self-righteous ‘I’, and we’re used to fear, to frankness, but not to –
Not to not feeling anything.
The song ends with that line, and it feels bleak, but perhaps there’s hope here too, perhaps this numbness is merely a stepping stone, a blank slate for something entirely new. Before “Sealed to Me”, the new song they’ve only performed live, Jesse made a speech along the lines that he was (finally) growing up, learning to take responsibility and grow emotionally in the way he should have as a young twenty-something. “Your father spoke a prophecy, to think that I believed is self-centred of me” finds it’s fruition in “your kingdom never comes, I ain’t no chosen one” – it edges into resigned, acceptance of an identity that does not stem from being Special. When Jesse sings “I’m working hard at being my own MVP/instead of feeling lucky just to have made the team”, it’s a far cry from “Millstone”’s “I used to be such a burning example/I used to be so original […] I’m my own stone around my neck”. The verse in “Sealed to Me” ends with “I’m finished with these pliers/sick of pulling my teeth”, suggesting a departure from the self-aggrandizing and self-tormenting statements of “Millstone”. The anger has passed, but so has the need to separate himself from it – there’s no need to torture himself about it, anymore, but there’s no need to pretend to be something Other. It’s passive, no longer raging against his own lack of importance. There’s a tinge of sadness in the loss of Jesse’s strutting “I am heaven sent”, but there’s growth here too, the necessary pain of growing old and seeing the universe expand before you.
The title “Mene” is believed to refer to the writing that appeared on the wall in Daniel (“written on the wall, in letters plain and tall”), end times and doom being things that you cannot run away from, and that I’m not sure Brand New are particularly interested in running away from even if you could. In terms of religious imagery, both “Mene” and “Sealed to Me” are obvious follow-ups from “Jesus Christ”: “Jesus Christ I’m not scared to die, I’m a little bit scared of what comes after/still cower at eternal wrath though, don’t want my fear to become my shadow” – except that in “Mene” as well as an admission of fear it becomes something else, it becomes a declaration, a decision – “don’t want” can be “won’t allow” in the right hands, and although sometimes Jesse’s drawling delivery can make it hard to feel truly get-up-and-go about anything, when he follows it with “I want, I want” it feels like that – who cares whether it’s possible, this is what he needs, now, this is what it’s all been for. And when, at the end of “Sealed to Me”, Jesse declares, “those gates won’t be/sealed to me” it doesn’t feel like arrogance, not anymore. It feels earned, feels taken from the hands of God. It feels true.
I don’t know what Brand New have planned. I don’t know if this is the end, or if we’re headed for some kind of Fall Out Boy-esque rebirth, the old mainstays of the pop punk scene finally growing up and settling down. I don’t know if the end of the struggle signals the end of the music, or whether there can ever really be an end to the struggle at all. All I know is that Brand New will continue to surprise, to confuse, and, despite any declaration to the contrary, to emote their pop punk hearts out.
Rebecca Coates is a some-student some-time theatre critic who loves characters named Hal, the live performance of Dear John (the rising scream!), and is obsessed with that one time Taylor covered “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” Frankly weird levels of love for their hometown, London.