Review Summary: Will the real Machine Gun Kelly please stand up?Am I out of my head?
Am I out of my mind?
If you only knew the bad things I like
Don't think that I can explain it
What can I say, it's complicated
Once in a while, the genesis of a review is just plain morbid curiosity. Those five lines that started this write-up have been racking around my brain for months, as the chorus of “Bad Things” by rapper Machine Gun Kelly has fascinated me in how much of a disgrace it is to Fastball’s classic “Out of my Head,” whose melodies it samples. Little did I know the full extent of eardrum desecration I’d find upon hearing the entire track, complete with Kelly’s awful flow and cliched “bad boy” lyrics in the verses. Of course, the fact that it’s such an earworm doesn’t help matters. In any case, my expectations for “MGK”s new album Bloom
were already buried under the ground before it even came out. But who knows? Maybe it will be a pleasant surprise? Or perhaps it will be just as bad as many of us thought? Unfortunately, listening to the album ended up raising even more questions than answers.
Machine Gun Kelly decided to take a scattershot approach to Bloom
, throwing a bunch of things at the wall to see what sticks. Around the album’s central hip-hop core is a smattering of other influences ranging from trap, pop, country, and even blues-rock, so at least some variety is maintained. But with variety comes a price, as the mood swings on Bloom
make it incredibly inconsistent. To break it down bluntly, we basically get two sides of Machine Gun Kelly on this album: the aggressive hip-hop “I don’t give a fuck, but I’m also a badass” side, and the sensitive melodic pop side with tender melodies and a number of female guest spots. As weird as it sounds, that first side is way more strong and effective here. When Kelly angrily raps over bass-boosted trap beats and sinister low-tempo instrumental crawls, we get some of his best work to date. Opener “The Gunner” kicks everything off with a bang, with the rapper exhibiting a decent flow over dark, moody piano work and painting a vivid portrait of both braggadocio and anger. Meanwhile, Kelly’s “I don’t give a fuck” persona is best depicted in the fantastic album highlight “Can’t Walk,” a slow dreamy number with a sluggish tempo and probably the laziest line deliveries I’ve heard in quite some time. But they’re lazy deliveries that work, as the surreal atmosphere anchors the piece effectively. Add to that a fun trap song like “Trap Paris” as well as the smoky blues-influenced rap rock punch of “Wake + Bake,” and there are some great moments to be had.
But the second side of Machine Gun Kelly - the pop side - presents a dilemma that I still can’t quite figure out. For all of his bragging and anger, he still falls into the same trap that Eminem did with Recovery
, trying too hard to make sincere and inspirational ballads while working within a hip-hop context. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and Machine Gun Kelly doesn’t quite succeed at creating a strong balance of the two. Most of the ballads here range from the forgettable to the flat-out annoying, and there’s not enough variation to tell them apart from each other. The main motif of “At My Best,” which features Hailee Steinfeld on guest vocals, sounds like a complete ripoff of the sing-along finale of Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” while the falsetto vocals of “Go for Broke”’s guest singer James Arthur are just horrendously cringe-inducing. However, there is one exception to the mediocrity, and that’s the surprisingly fun country ballad “Rehab.” Acoustic guitars take the forefront here, while Kelly exhibits a strikingly heartfelt attempt at clean singing. The lyrics are still nothing new or special, but hearing him experiment with a few extra tricks is pretty entertaining. But the album almost gets derailed by its worst offender which, as I stated before, happens to be “Bad Things.” You’d think having a mixture of Fastball and Pachelbel’s Canon would be a decent concept for a chorus, but the female vocals are so generic and the rapping is so bland that it doesn’t mean a thing. Just take in this lyrical snippet for a moment:
Nothing's that bad
If it feels good
So you come back
Like I knew you would
And we're both wild
And the night's young
And you're my drug
Breathe you in 'til my face numb
Drop it down to that bass drum
It’s all complemented by an unimpressive flow and bored delivery that pretty much nail the coffin.
The problem with Bloom
is that it’s hard to make out what kind of artist Machine Gun Kelly wants to be. There’s a difference between diversity and lacking a definable artistic direction, and Kelly essentially fits both of these labels on the record. Granted, the album isn’t bad per se, as there are some excellent songs that result from the rapper just wanting to ride some strong grooves and act like a laid-back badass. But the question is: is he really a badass, or is it all a front? I’m not sure I can answer that one, and I’m not sure if Machine Gun Kelly can either.