Review Summary: Transitional, but on the right track
I’ve often wondered whether The Chainsmokers regret making “#Selfie” their first official entry into the pop spotlight. Ever since putting out the song and its infamous video, every subsequent single has sounded like a form of damage control to mitigate the parodic and stupid nature of their debut track. And to their credit, it’s certainly working! Whether or not you enjoy the duo or find artistic merit in their supposedly “introspective” approach to electronic dance music, it’s found them such a wide audience that they can safely say they won’t simply be remembered as the “selfie guys” when their success eventually sputters out.. But of course, it still comes down to the first half of that statement… will the music be remembered fondly
The biggest problem with The Chainsmokers is the same issue that populates most of Coldplay’s music: the music sounds
important without actually having a reason to be important. For all of the duo’s talk about growth and maturity (reading their interviews and reading critic reviews of them back-to-back is a riot), there’s always been a distinct “faux-deep” air surrounding their lyrics and engregiously-placed drops that’s hard to forgive. Occasionally they’ll whip out some decent storytelling abilities - “Closer” proved that much - and they at least seem like they mean well, but I never got the impression that their ambitions were as far-reaching as their new approach suggested.
So imagine my reaction, then, when I was pleasantly surprised with Sick Boy
. What the duo managed to do here was take the best and most heartfelt song from Memories… Do Not Open
, “Bloodstream,” and remodel their sound to fit that format. Many of the beats are slower and more subdued, and while the “drops” are still pretty plentiful, they fit better in the context of the music and don’t seem quite as forcefully shoved into each track. “Side Effects,” “Somebody,” “Sick Boy,” and “Hope” don’t even feature any drops, instead opting to immerse the listener in a continuous vibe that ebs and flows, which is welcome for a group that were constantly railed by critics for copy-pasting their own drops and (by extension) tunes. The music as a whole is still very wide-screen and given a glossy sheen, but it sounds more genuine when it’s given more meaningful lyrics and melodies.
That’s not to say that Sick Boy
will alienate old fans, and I’d be lying if I said this was a complete 180 from past work (it’s unfortunately not), but it’s a step in the right direction. Taking a page from the current pop zeitgeist, The Chainsmokers decided to implement some new techniques and tricks to fit in with today’s heavy-hitters. As such, you’ll hear a lot more trap and future bass elements that flesh out that “mood music” feeling you get from a lot of the lowkey artists dominating that new “trap-soul” scene we’ve got going on now. “Somebody” is easily that track that dedicates the most time to this format, the entire song being imbued with a droning tempo and swirling synths that do a fine job of establishing a sense of atmosphere. Accompanying their modified musical approach are quite a few innovations to their lyrical content, ranging from seeking self-worth (the title track) to authenticity vs. materialism (“Somebody”) to desperate self-degradation (the depressing message of the otherwise upbeat “Side Effects”) to letting go of the past (“Hope”). There are even a few ironic self-deprecating jabs at the duo, such as the title track’s central question: “how many likes is my life worth"”
Sadly, old habits die hard. Sick Boy
gets very repetitive after a while, even at the short length of 32 minutes. The slower and more subdued approach, while a nice change of pace, is difficult to sustain for an entire album when you still opt to include many past tropes that lent themselves to the dance floor. As such, not every track lands a punch. “Everybody Hates Me” sounds like a third-rate Drake song and has Andrew Taggart doing a horrible Drake impression to go along with it. The drop in “Siren” is just an awful cacophony of bleeps and bloops from the uncanny (not to mention dated) dubstep valley, and the boring verses aren’t enough to salvage it. I think the best way to describe Sick Boy
as an entire experience is that it acts as a bridge between the duo’s incredibly flawed past and a promising potential future. Because of this, it’s a conflicted release that’s caught between two distinct sounds. Luckily, the group committed more of their time and energy to the newer sound, which means I can at least offer a modest recommendation for the pop fans out there. Sick Boy
may not be great, but it did something I didn’t think would ever happen in my lifetime: it made me care about The Chainsmokers for the first time.