If you know me, or don’t know me since I’m so vocal about it, you know that twenty one pilots is one of my favorite bands of all time. From their self-released self-titled to “Regional at Best” to “Vessel,” there is really not much they’ve done wrong. However, there is already something clearly wrong with their newest album in 3 years. What I love most about them is their genre defying sound. There’s influences of hip hop, reggae, dance, rap, and rock that feed into the indie pop sound that they carved out with “Vessel.”
There in lies the problem with Blurryface. It isn’t influenced by these genres. Tyler Joseph instead wrote songs for each of the genres and forgot to root it in that indie pop sound that made “Vessel” so fun. Some people have complained about the meaning of their songs and that it’s going away from the mental illness and angst charged lyrics of their previous albums, but my argument in that is that Joseph always wrote about his struggles in his life. This time around it’s about his struggle with his new found fame and success as well as his desire to please the people in his life. The titular “Blurryface” represents his insecurities.
Similarly to “Ode to Sleep” on “Vessel,” “heavydirtysoul” acts as an introduction to the album by simply being the most raw song of the album. It prepares listeners for the quick grabs for the heart and audio assault on their ears. That’s why I found it interesting that they followed it up with the subdued, but standout “Stressed Out,” which brings us the clear theme of the album. It’s about Tyler’s struggle with the fame of the band and the pressure to produce good, but also profitable music.
They follow it up with one of the few songs that follow the formula that brought them so much success in the past. “Ride” is reminiscent of the ukulele driven “Screen” from “Vessel” that felt like the anthem for the band. “Ride” does the same thing, however this time as a love letter to the clique. It combines rap and reggae with their pop sound in what becomes the best song of the first half of the album.
[Tweet “My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think. Check out our review of @twentyonepilots Blurryface”]
The album’s lead single “Fairly Local” (which I reviewed here) quickly dissipates the calming energy of “Ride” as the dark anomaly of the album. I’m pretty sure this is going to be the track that I’m going to skip during listen-throughs. Not because it’s a bad song, but because it simply doesn’t fit in with the album. As much as I talk about the inconsistency of the album, there is still some general arrangement between the first and second half of the album. “Fairly Local” is out of place in that arrangement and feels like a song written as a single, which is ironic considering the song “Lane Boy” has the line, “in the industry it seems to me that singles on the radio are currency / My creativity’s only free when I’m playing shows.” It feels like he’s criticizing the exact thing they just did, which could be brilliant, well-placed irony or a sad inevitable move by their label.
The album’s halves are divided at the second ukulele driven song “The Judge,” which serves as an incredible and emotional transition into a lacking second half. It’s not necessarily a bad run of songs, but the strength of the first half of the album is not matched by the relatively safe second half. It’s also hard to justify a 14 song album when trimming 3 of the weaker songs would easily bolster the album. Those 3 songs would pretty much be the run of songs following the catchy “Doubt” and “Polarize.”
“We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” and “Message Man” sound like Twenty One Pilots knock offs, while “Hometown” is an easily forgettable indie pop entry. However, the album redeems itself with the extremely fun “Not Today,” which easily holds its own with album standouts like “Tear in My Heart,” “The Judge,” “Ride,” and emotional album closer “Goner.”
While the album disappointed in some aspects, the highs help make up for the disappointing lows in the second half. What I love about Twenty One Pilots is that they’re a band that never really does anything right, at least by the music industry standards. They never give in to the pop standards or what the mainstream public is looking for. They put out hard to swallow lyrics matched with erratic music. They wear masks, drum on top of audiences, and are grateful for their fans and understand the reason for their success. They are simply a couple of great guys in an industry that hasn’t been great for a while. Did “Blurryface” live up to the heights of “Vessel”? No. But they stayed true to themselves and that’s all we needed, as much as we needed them. |-/