Review Summary: My name is Blurryface and I care what you think
Twenty One Pilots have been around longer than most people realize. They dropped their self-titled debut in 2009, and since then they’ve gradually ascended in popularity. It wasn’t until 2012’s Vessel
that they really got on most people’s radar, and a lot of that had to do with them signing to Fueled By Ramen, which marked their first experience on a major label. No matter who you are, when you start touring with acts such as Neon Trees and Walk The Moon, your name is going to get out there quickly. Thus, it stands to reason that Blurryface
is their most anticipated album to date. ‘Fairly Local’ and ‘Tear In My Heart’ led the charge, and did a reasonably good job of rounding up momentum for the band’s fourth LP. After months of snowballing expectations, the threat of Blurryface
failing to deliver loomed not only as a possible outcome, but also as a likely one. After all, mainstream music – even at its most forgiving – is a fickle creature. However, Twenty One Pilots managed to take something that quite honestly should have
failed and turned it into a resounding success.
So what’s their secret? The obvious assumption is that the album must be very consistent; that it is devoid of filler or perhaps even a home run from start to finish. However, none of that really qualifies as being the case. The true strength of this record lies in the creativity that spawned it. Blurryface
is more than just an album title – it’s a character within a story who represents Tyler Joseph’s doubts and insecurities. This becomes apparent on ‘Stressed Out’, in which Joseph expresses concern over everything from his music (“I wish I found some chords in an order that is new / I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang”) to growing older (“I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink / But now I’m insecure and I care what people think”). He then ties all the loose ends together by introducing his alter ego: “My name is Blurryface and I care what you think.” Understanding Blurryface
’s psyche goes a long way in grasping the record musically, because quite frankly it’s all over the map. The album jumps between hip-hop, rock, pop, and even reggae as if genre boundaries don’t exist. Tyler Joseph alternates between rapping, singing, and screaming like they’re all the same, and he even alludes to the idea on the curtain-opening ‘Heavydirtysoul’ when he states “this is not rap, this is not hip-hop / just another attempt to make the voices stop.” Despite the music’s schizophrenic nature, it’s all true to the Blurryface persona – and in that sense, it’s artistic. This album transcends the realm of music to become a cathartic vessel for Tyler Jospeh – and on a larger scale, anyone who immerses themselves in the experience. After all, everyone has a Blurryface alter ego.
Outside of its musical and thematic creativity, Blurryface
is also chockfull with lyrics that are actually crucial to the album’s vitality. When you have a work that relies on emotional proximity, what is written on paper is equally as important as the notes being played. That’s where Twenty One Pilots absolutely hit the nail on the head; everything here is expressed perfectly for the given situation. The lyrics aren’t Shakespearian poetry but they don’t have to be in order to get the point across. Take the closing track ‘Goner’ for instance, in which Joseph starts out singing in a hushed, dejected voice, “I’m a goner…somebody catch my breath” only to erupt in screaming triumph “I’ve got two faces…Blurry’s the one I’m not / I need your help to take him out / Don’t let me be gone!” All the themes that were already divulged in previous tracks serve to work in his favor, taking a depressing lyrical passage and showing listeners the light utilizing a character he
invented. It’s brilliant, and it’s one of the main reasons why ‘Goner’ is the indisputable highlight of Blurryface
. The album has other moments like these, and they’re the primary reason it’s worth exploring for fans of any genre who enjoy a well executed, musically embedded plot line.
If we’re going to take a step back from all the in-depth analysis and refocus solely on the music, Blurryface
is admittedly far more ordinary. Yes, they blend hip-hop, rock, and an array of subsidiary genres in a way that doesn’t grate your ears. But honestly, it’s been done before and the concept is decades old. It’s refreshing to have a mini rap-rock revival on our hands in the vein of early 2000s Linkin Park or Chronic Future, but when all is said and done that’s about as much credit as they deserve. They’re definitely crossing barriers, but that’s not as amazing of a feat when those walls have already been broken down by the musical pioneers of yesteryear. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ridiculously catchy choruses (‘Tear In My Heart’ will be a stadium-packer) or compelling beats (‘Fairly Local’ and ‘Stressed Out’ both implore movement), but their experimental appeal is quite limited compared to the “genre busting” label that will almost certainly be slapped upon them from every corner of the music critiquing globe.
Another problem facing Blurryface
is the uneven quality present across the tracklisting. This isn’t one of those albums that you are going to listen to without skipping a single song. Once the novelty wears off, you’ll find yourself returning to the cornerstone tracks while giving the remainder of the album a casual nod as you pass on by. The first half actually holds up quite well, but it’s difficult to justify the fourteen track length when you consider that many of the songs towards the back break up the natural flow. Moderately interesting but ultimately forgettable inclusions such as ‘Polarize', ‘Message Man’, and ‘Hometown’ will eventually turn into nothing more than lull inducers, and on an album that relies so strongly on emotional engagement, that’s a devastating blow. Luckily, it happens late in the album and is quickly picked up by the top-tier ‘Goner’ – which leaves an incredible and long lasting impression. However, it goes without saying that Blurryface
has a noticeable amount of fat that - had it been trimmed - would have elevated the album to another level.
Once everything is taken into consideration, it’s safe to say that Twenty One Pilots have officially crafted their breakthrough record. Although they may not have invented
the concept of fusing rock and hip-hop, it’s a refreshing change of pace for a mainstream environment that isn’t accustomed to such eclecticism. Plus, they wisely inject that formula with intermittent doses of other far less common genres (see: reggae) to keep things looking to the future and not back to the dreaded nu-metal days. Over all else though, Blurryface
thrives on the intangibles. Despite being an emotional wreck, Tyler Joseph is precise in detailing feelings of insecurity that others would never even venture to describe. The emotional component is so large that it separates listeners into two camps: those who can relate to what he’s saying and can gain something from it, and those who will dismiss the whole thing as a pedestrian exercise in rap-rock. That makes Blurryface
one of the more intriguing albums of the year, because emotion
isn't really a quantifiable trait. In this case, it's best to simply listen and find out which side of the fence you're on.