The Chainsmokers’ rebrand from annoying EDM-merchants to slick pop operators can’t disguise a lack of soul or original ideas on an overproduced mess of a debut album.
Hot on everyone’s lips, The Chainsmokers have become one of the biggest names in pop/EDM music in this past year, with their single ‘Closer’, a moody but pretty convincing song about sex, regret and the heartache of time passing, reaching 1.6 billion views on YouTube. In addition, their ten most-popular songs of YouTube and Spotify account for a combined total of 7 billion plays. Their shiny, mid-tempo, easy-listening formula has thus become as ubiquitous as oxygen and it is unsurprising that the duo’s success has caused them to become every critic’s favourite musical punching bag due to their repetitive Top 40 hits and constant airplay.
Their debut album, Memories… Do Not Open, might seem like too easy a target for critics in this context (and it is). It dares not vary from their formula of creating instantly disposable music that lacks any kind of personality, but it does at least attempt a sombre departure from their EDM days – producing a soulless, vapid pop record that wallows in basic feelings of regret and narcissism communicated through slower tempos and slinkier melodies. The recurring problem is that Chainsmokers only have one song, and they try to make this same ‘tab A into slot B’ music work for them again and again. But, like trying to start a fire by bashing rocks together, the spark almost always fails to ignite.
Opening and shortest track on the album, generically titled ‘The One’ begins apologetically with a wounded Andrew Taggart delivering the lyrics “you know I’m sorry”, setting a lamenting tone for an album concerned with breakups and betrayal through its piano-led plods, punchy kicks and bland choruses. It is followed by infuriatingly catchy pop-rock ‘Break Up Every Night’, which features country duo Florida Georgia Line and attempts to capture a high-school love story through its cringeworthy, unimaginative lyrics such as “she wants to break up every night / then tries to fuck me back to life” that reaches beneath the bottom of barrel to scrape the cold earth underneath. When you think it can’t possibly get worse, it somehow does, with following lyrics “she’s got seven different personalities / every one’s a tragedy”, framing mental health issues in the context of make-up sex in an appallingly cack-handed and insensitive manner.
Next is ‘Bloodstream’ a track that best encapsulates the album’s gaping spiritual void despite its boring and lacklustre opening. It tackles Chainsmokers’ much-addressed issue of the perils of fame but sounds like a slower version of ‘Closer’ with trashy lyrics that make you want to rip your ears off. Then Emily Warren appears and confidently leads the following tracks ‘Don’t Say’ and ‘My Type’. But this new glimmer of album-saving hope disappears behind a cloud with ‘My Type’ repeating the song title so many times that it feels like being battered around the head by a brick.
Thankfully the next two tracks salvage something passable from the dreck. ‘It Won’t Kill Ya’ pulls out all the stops with swaggering beats, horn fanfare and deep piano, reminding listeners of Chainsmokers they are familiar with. Up next, ‘Paris’ is the closest fans get to a track similar to ‘Closer’ with its similar ear for detail and its us-against-the-world catchy chorus “let’s show them we are better” that reaches even the most hardened and cynical listener.
Album closer, ‘Last Day Alive’ cannot come soon enough in that it signals the end of an incredibly disappointing album. There is not much to say about the closing track, other than it goes on for far too long about the “Last Day Alive” with harmonized vocals veering off into the distance. Despite seeing Taggart’s vocals progress in that he dominates the album, not even the simple melodies and ultra-polished production can hide the fact that he is one of pop’s shakiest singers. While the attempt to rebrand Chainsmokers from the annoying novelty-EDM of ‘#SELFIE’ is perhaps a sensible move, the central lack of ideas can’t be disguised. Even on the rare occasions it does work, it feels like an aggressively marketed ad campaign.
Memories… Do Not Open is one giant lyrical disaster for anybody unfortunate enough to unfasten the box. The ‘Do Not Open’ in the title is a genuine hazard warning: its contents are often noxious and corrosive to the human spirit. There is nothing exciting about the 12 songs present – no anthemic chorus or stunning vocals that hard-bitten fans associate with the duo. It is just predictable, with its awkward vocals, cringeworthy lyrics, garish neon production and occasional downright awful tracks. (3/10)
Listen to Memories… Do Not Open here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Alex Pall, Andrew Taggart, Columbia, Hannah Binns, Memories... Do Not Open, review, The Chainsmokers
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