Mod Sun's 'Internet Killed the Rockstar' - a familiar story
I have to give credit to my cousin Dan for this – in a distant and more immediate sense. The distant sense is that pop punk wasn’t something that was at all on my radar until about seven years ago when he introduced me to it, and the more immediate sense is that he told me about MOD SUN. The simple tagline here is that MOD SUN is cut from a similar cloth to Machine Gun Kelly; MOD SUN’s recent single ‘Flames’ with Avril Lavigne was much like MGK’s ‘I Think I’m Okay’ in that it was a pop punk release from a rap and hip hop artist that preceded a full transition into unknown territory with an album to go with it. If you want even more links between the two then it might interest you to know that MOD SUN and MGK are good friends and MOD has even done some producing for his pal in the past. So whilst it is hard to deny the similarities between the two and the musical journey they are currently on, I’m going to try and minimalize the MGK talk from here on out. I’m also trying a slightly different style with this review in that I’m writing as I listen to Internet Killed The Rockstar for the first time; now obviously I’ll look back and fix the spelling mistakes and make it somewhat readable but the idea is that what you will read is my genuine first time reaction to each song and not some broad summary of the album once I’ve listened to the whole thing. I’m also hoping this will stop me from constantly comparing it to Tickets to My Downfall because I love that album and it probably wouldn’t be fair.
The first song on the album is ‘Karma’ and is one of those classic revenge anthems; there’s certainly a lot of frustration such as in the ‘I hope you get everything you deserve’ line, but it is delivered in a ‘teenage kicks’ sort of rebellion style, rather than with any real malice or aggression; it actually makes the song come across much more positive than some of the lyrics would suggest as the singer has clearly let go of his anger and is comfortable in the knowledge that karma will do it’s job. The song sounds like a sort of pop punk 101 session in that it follows the almost stereotypical blueprint of tracks in the genre with heavy guitars, breakdowns, chants and melismatic vocals but this isn’t a slander; these things get used so much because they sound great – as does this first song. A solid start. The second song is ‘Bones’ and is much more melancholic. A building but simplistic guitar supports MOD’s impressive vocal which carries meaningful and poetic lines about the feeling of falling apart and my particular favourite, ‘hold on tight, it’s a fast ride’; an astute commentary on the life we live. The guitar continues to build and the vocals get louder and more dramatic, and there is a feeling that it is leading to something really special, but I’m afraid it disappoints. Maybe I’m too harsh, but the drop doesn’t deserve that beautiful and exciting build up – everything drops away to leave us with some weak drum beat made on a computer and a less than inspiring vocal line. It’s not even that bad, but it just seems so much worse after what was such a promising start. The song does make up for it though as towards the end we get all the drama and anthemic style crescendos we had hoped for, but what would have been an 8 or 9 out of ten is reduced to a 7 for me because of the middle section that almost feels as if it was nicked from a different track altogether.
Following this is ‘Flames’ with Avril Lavigne. I’ve actually heard this already as it was released before the album and went some way to signposting MOD’s transition. This song sort of feels like a halfway point between the genres in that it sounds fundamentally pop punk but takes on occasional hip hop drum beats and the ‘featuring style’; in which rappers employ the aid of talented singers to take on the chorus. In the context of the album and after the first two songs it's almost disappointing having heard MOD’s vocal abilities to then hear a move back to a half sung half rapped style, but the song is still great. In the chorus Avril Lavigne expectedly delivers an awesome vocal and it sounds even better when MOD sings along with her. With the big name feature and the great sound it’s clear why MOD SUN released this as the single that would ultimately signpost his direction change.
Betterman’ takes us back to the best of MOD’s vocals, and back to a fully fledged pop punk style. Although ‘Flames’ was a great song, it's kind of refreshing at this point in the album to move back to this. I’m not sure whether it was because it was almost meant as the tentative first release, but ‘Flames’ has a whiff of commercial indecisiveness about it; a lack of commitment either way. ‘Betterman’ takes us back to the peak pop punk promised to us by the first couple of songs. ‘Prayer’ is an interesting one in that it would sit well on a hip hop or pop punk album; it actually sounds a lot like Hollywood’s Bleeding era Post Malone (for context I love Post Malone so this is a compliment). It seems to be more deep rooted in hip hop in the instrumentation but the vocal carries a more rock or pop punk sound. It feels almost like a psychological thing to me now knowing this album is a transition for the artist, as if I’d heard this song on a different pop punk album I probably wouldn’t have blinked an eye; but knowing the potential destination and starting point of this artist I find myself constantly debating about which songs fall into which category. Taking a step back from that though, ‘Prayer’ is a really beautiful song and an anthem of self-improvement. I’m not sure whether the song carries any autobiographical elements for MOD, but the lyrics look back and list a plethora of reckless and unhealthy behaviours before talking about learning and growing from mistakes and improving. That description doesn’t really do it justice, but short of copying and pasting the lyrics it’s hard to describe some of the beautiful sentiments in the song in simple summaries. Instead, I suggest that you give it a listen yourself, for those that have been on similar journeys it is relatable and for those that need to make those journeys it is inspiring. A truly great song. ‘TwentyNUMB’ and ‘Smith’ follow and bring back this ‘half and half’ style, again what we land on sounds much like Post Malone. I must admit at this point in the album I am a little confused; it could just be that these few songs do sound a bit more like hip hop or it could be that their grouping together means the rest of the album will be divided between the genres; whatever the thoughts though they are dominated by my desire to listen on and find out. ‘Rollercoaster’ does little to give me an answer.
‘Annoying’ seems to mark the end of an interlude of more hip hop based songs with another jump back to pop punk. It’s another great song and feels like one of those teenage classics. The lyrics do a great job at presenting the emotional turmoil of confusing love where the singer feels so overwhelmed by their feelings for someone that they eventually outburst in the chorus ‘f*** it’s annoying’. It almost sounds like it doesn’t make sense but when you listen MOD does a great job of telling the story and making us as the listener feel part of it; and even if you’ve never experienced it you completely feel like you understand what the singer is going through. I didn’t really like ‘Pornstar’; it just felt unnecessary. At first it seemed to follow in the light hearted but sentimental vein of ‘Annoying’ and I fully expected to be immersed in another emotional drama, but any chance of that is interrupted by the chorus of ‘Imma f*** you like a pornstar’; and that’s about it for the rest of the song. It seems like a waste because the instrumental had this really great third wave ska vibe going on that subtly harked back to the likes of OPM and Sublime, and I was genuinely excited to see how it would develop and whether it would lean further into that or transition into something else, but the lyrics just sort of butchered it for me.
I expected big things from ‘Internet Killed The Rockstar’ being the title track and final song on the album and it certainly delivered. The simple acoustic guitar perfectly supports the emotional quality of the vocal. I’m a real sucker for that stripped back feel where production is at a minimum and the raw sound is allowed to push through; it’s one of the main reasons I loved MGK’s album so much (yes I know what I said and I’m sorry I couldn’t stop myself) and I’d have loved to have seen more of it from MOD SUN. Even when we do hear the introduction of more instruments, the feel of the song is preserved and at no point is the vocal over powered. The sentiments of this song are similar to ‘Karma’ but presented in a very different way; whilst the anger, frustration and sadness are all there in ‘Karma’ they were presented in an upbeat way, whereas ‘Internet Killed the Rockstar’ allows them all to shine though in their truest form, in which the singer shows their rage with a series of insults. It’s still very well conveyed though and takes on a similar quality to ‘Annoying’ in that we feel we are listening to a genuine outburst or part of an argument.
So there we have it, my genuine response to all the songs on the Internet Killed The Rockstar album. Now for the album as a whole. Well first of all I liked it, I really did. All the songs individually sounded great, I only didn’t like one; ‘Pornstar’, and even that had a great instrumental. There are a couple of key issues though despite it being a really good album. The first issue is MGK; I tried to keep his album out of my mind when listening to this but it’s so hard not to compare, and against a great album like Tickets to my Downfall it’s hardly fair. In an odd way the albums are sort of the opposite of each other. In my review for Tickets to My Downfall I remember saying that the vocals could have been better, the production and mixing weren’t always perfect but none of that really mattered because it was so honest and raw – but with MOD SUN's the vocal performance was arguably more impressive than MGK’s and the production was much better in my opinion; but we missed that thing that MGK’s had that you can’t really put your finger on. We got glimpses of it in ‘Prayer’ which felt brutally honest and ‘Internet Killed the Rockstar’ which sounded raw; but I’d have willingly sacrificed some of the production value for just a little more of that authenticity that MGK harnessed so beautifully. The other issue was the mixture of styles; to be honest I think the blame here somewhat sits with the listener as knowing this album presents a transition, I found myself constantly trying to bracket each song into hip hop or pop punk when really they don’t have to be either. It’s a tough one because you can’t really critique the artist for this and I did actually like those ambiguous songs, I loved that Post Malone-like sound. I do think however that the way the album was structured didn’t help as all these confusing songs were grouped together in the middle, which after such a strong pop punk start had me questioning whether the album was split into genre specific sections or was just ambiguous throughout. What matters more than genre however is the music itself, and whilst it doesn't feel as special as Tickets to my Downfall', it is still a very good album.
Images From http://modsunmusic.com/