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The long awaited second pop punk album from Machine Gun Kelly is finally here and after ‘Tickets to my Downfall’ it has a lot to live up to. I must admit in the build up to its release I’ve had some mixed feelings. I credited the first album for its raw honesty, emotional depth and the fact that it wasn’t entirely over produced but after watching MGK embark on a strange Hollywood relationship and hearing the release of ‘Emo Girl’, which with its overproduction and lack of direction makes it everything ‘Tickets to My Downfall’ isn’t, I had my doubts. My main hope is that MGK hasn’t listened too much to what people have been saying about him. The naivety of someone new to a genre is what endeared me to his first pop punk work, I just hope ‘Mainstream Sellout’ remains as honest and doesn’t have MGK living up to its name.
The album comes off the line solidly and goes someway to address my preconceived concerns. ‘Born with Horns’ has a good pace to it and it was a pretty solid and catchy tune. I must admit that it wasn’t anything too memorable until about halfway through when it breaks down. Although I was a fan of the quick tempo vibe the slowed section really shows off MGK’s vocals more and brings in a depth to the lyrics which start talking about feeling numb and being torn between reality and fiction. It gave the song that bit extra that it needed and when the slow section does come to an end, signalled by a scream and crazy drum fill, it makes the quicker part of the song feel even more driven. ‘god save me’ follows suit by being another solid showing – a strong pop punk tune with a catchy hook.
The already high set bar is then lifted higher by ‘maybe’ which features genre veterans Bring Me the Horizon. One of the things I like about MGK in pop punk is that his voice is instantly recognisable and does tend to sit deeper so I was curious to see how it would fit in alongside the likes of BMTH, however this didn’t disappoint. Both artists complimented each other throughout the whole song; when they sang together it sounded great and then when they each took their own parts, they were equally well suited to the track. I also loved how BMTH pushed MGK a little further than he’s possibly gone yet in this genre by adding a small glimpse of the classic heavier punk screaming style. I know it can be divisive as this style does have a marmite effect but I thought it was handled perfectly – coming in enough to really cement this as a proper punk tune but not so much as to make the song unlikeable for anyone who isn’t a huge fan of this feature. This tune also comes complete with one of the best guitar parts, flipping between catchy and melodic almost pizzicato style melodies and then heavier chords. I have to say that this song is one of my favourite pop punk era MGK offerings, it certainly sets the bar very high for this album early on.
‘drug dealer’ offered another big name feature, but this time from rapper Lil Wayne. This one really did have me curious as I wondered whether it would see a movement back towards a more hip hop feel, or whether it would see MGK push Lil Wayne towards singing. I actually like Lil Wayne as a singer and although we don’t hear it often his voice would be well suited to this genre. When the song does start it’s fairly obvious that we stick with the pop punk style and in terms of Lil Wayne I’d say we are somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t call it full on singing and I wouldn’t call it rapping either, I have to say I was a bit disappointed as I feel this collaboration could have been really interesting but Lil Wayne’s voice just doesn’t suit this song, maybe if they’d put him on something a bit slower it may have worked out more. This song as a whole doesn’t do it too much for me to be honest, it reminds me of MOD SUN’s ‘Pornstar’ in that it just feels like some trivial throwaway. The tune is ok and the lyrics say little else other than listing the names of drugs. I think it’s probably made worse by the fact I had such high hopes for the feature but I do have to chalk this one up as a bit of a disappointment.
This is followed by an interlude which I didn’t really get, but I do like how cleverly at the end the man (which I think is Pete Davidson) says ‘I hope the next song is a banger, enjoy Machine Gun Kelly’s album,.. what are you going to call the album?’ – this is then followed straight on by the intro into the song ‘mainstream sellout’ which seemed like a nice touch. I really liked ‘mainstream sellout’, it’s short and packs a punch. It goes someway to addressing my concerns before the album in that MGK might have taken on too much of the criticism put on him after ‘Tickets to my Downfall’. The whole song is a huge screw you to all the haters in which he mimics them with lines such as ‘leave the scene you’re ruining it’ and ‘you sold out’. In fact the whole first verse is just MGK singing about how he made an album that everyone says they hate, calling him a poser. I think the position MGK is in is a tough one as I’ve always been a casual pop punk fan and I am a big fan of what he is doing, but I do understand why more die hard fans of the scene would feel a little defensive about some rapper guy coming in and thinking he can make that kind of music. I think at this point though the scene has to look inwards. The guy is making good pop punk music, he’s bringing fans to the scene and no one can say he’s not being genuine – so what is he going to have to do for these people to take his efforts seriously? This song actually made me sympathise with MGK a little, even though the whole premise is more along the lines of ignoring all they have to say it’s obvious that the criticism has reached him in some way for him to make a song about it, and then name the album after that song.
‘make up sex’ featuring blackbear followed and this song was pretty good. I thought the feature was a good fit and although it wasn’t exactly a deep song they don’t all have to be and it was nice to just have a good and catchy tune. ‘emo girl’ followed on and I have to be honest I’m not a huge fan. There’s nothing specifically that bad about it that I can put my finger on but for me it just misses the mark. It does maybe feel a little like he’s trying too hard -talking about emo girls and why he loves them; it almost feels like a plea to be accepted in the scene as he lists just about every single emo stereotype there is. It also feels like Willow isn’t the right fit for this song in particular. I can’t really describe it as it is a decent tune with a catchy hook but something about it just feels forced, it lacks that honesty that I liked so much about ‘Tickets to my Downfall’.
However, ‘5150’ follows and gets us back on track. I think in terms of just the sound of it this song is one of my favourites from the whole album; with great drum fills, a catchy chorus and a great drive to it, it has the feeling of a really strong pop punk tune. It’s another one of those, like there were a couple of in ‘Tickets to my Downfall’, where it seems MGK has just mixed up all the ingredients for a great pop punk song and the results make for an awesome listen. ‘papercuts’ is another really strong showing and keeps us on form. I think vocally it’s one of the best performances on the album and I like how towards the end MGK throws a rap in, showing back to his roots and bringing his two genres together in a way he hasn’t before. Even one of the lyrics of his rap is ‘you say I switched genres, I took the limit and pushed it farther’, a cool line and a suggestion that he hasn’t turned his back on anyone but is just doing something new and different. I liked the sentiment, especially as he gets so much stick from fans in both scenes. ‘WW4’ follows straight on from ‘WWIII’ in ‘Tickets to My Downfall’. The song is cut from the same cloth, a short minute long free for all chaos – and once again, - it’s brilliant. It’s just so high energy and although it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense it really doesn’t need to. The only bit that does make some sense it MGK saying a huge F you to all the other artists that have criticised him. I love the vibe.
‘ay!’ allows for Lil Wayne’s chance to redeem himself. The song is a slower number and the drum beat suggests more of a hip hop feel so I’ve got high hopes that it will be more suited this time around. The song falls into the category a few on the last album did, that sort of Post Malone middle ground. I’d say this one leans a lot further towards hip hop than it does pop punk and as much as I enjoy the pop punk stuff it is nice to see him swaying back a little occasionally. I also think it’s another great middle finger to all the fans in both genres that have criticised him. I like that he is making the music that he wants and is refusing to be boxed off as being one thing or the other by people. In terms of the Lil Wayne feature it definitely worked better on this tune. His voice was heavily tuned and we lost some of his raspy quality through this but also that suits this style of music more. It wasn’t a ground breaking verse or anything but on this slower number I think it was more about matching the spirit of the song than trying to do anything too crazy or impressive. ‘die in california’ follows in a similar vein and leans more towards MGK’s hip hop roots. It’s another really good hip hop track and the verses from Gunna and Young Thug are great – it’s got a great vibe to it and although the lyrics make it more of a sad song to me it feels like a great chill out track. The backing and the tempo just make me want to sit outside on a sunny afternoon with my earphones in and listen on repeat.
‘twin flame’ closes the album out beautifully. A romantic ballad that captures a feeling of inadequacy, the lyrics about his partner being too good for him and that he is ‘too sad, lonely’ make the song really quite a sad one. I’m not sure if it relates to real life at all but it feels real. A brief interlude in the song featuring a call between MGK and Megan (again not sure if it is real or not) would at least suggest the song is about her. The song closes out, and closes the album out, with a dramatic build that seems like the perfect end. Even just listening out of my tinny phone speaker it sounds atmospheric and you can just envisage a packed out stadium in awe as the guitar and drums just grow and grow. This song is the perfect way to end and is one of MGK’s best ever.
It's hard to conclude on this album, especially when comparing it to ‘Tickets to my Downfall’. I think the first thing to say is that I loved it. Apart from maybe one or two I liked all of the songs, and even those weren’t bad, just not quite as good. I think in terms of just the sounds of the projects I’d take this one over ‘Tickets to my Downfall’. The features were generally better and I think MGK has had more time to mature into this genre. I did love the way the last album sounded so that is high praise, I just feel like this one has more to offer in that sense. However, something about me can’t concede that this album overall is better. When I reviewed ‘Tickets to my Downfall’ I credited it on its depth, honesty, emotion and feel and I think this album lacked in some of those areas. Although I had a great time listening to it, it just wasn’t quite an experience like the last album was. It seems that the third album has the potential to hit the sweet spot, as a combination of the sound of ‘Mainstream Sellout’ and the feel of ‘Tickets to my Downfall’ would really make for one hell of an album.
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