Review Summary: This is the worst.
I’ve been writing about music for a long time now. I’ve seen brilliant peaks and demoralizing lows when it comes to the quality of what modern artists are releasing for public consumption. I’m also a glass-half-full sort of critic, so even when an artist is releasing what I deem to be the lowest common denominator of commercial music, it’s usually my goal to pinpoint something – anything
– of perceived strength and offer a path forward. For example, I’ve recently pegged Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, and Train as some of the most tepid and inoffensive bands on the face of the planet. Their unimaginative approach and sales-oriented mindset is enough to turn off anyone in search of interesting, meaningful music. With that said, there is little doubt that each of these bands do at least one thing well, even if it’s as simple as possessing vocal talent that goes to waste. No such silver lining exists for Australian overnight music sensation Toni Watson – or “Tones and I” – and her debut, Welcome to the Madhouse
If I were as nice as I claim to be, I’d stop here. Unfortunately, Welcome to the Madhouse
is so potently, bafflingly, and unusually bad
– not to mention unnecessarily showy – that it begs some semblance of an analysis. For example, the title is suggestive of a spooky concept album, but Welcome to the Madhouse
isn’t remotely close to being either of those things. It’s a stylistically disjointed, lyrically vapid pop record that covers absolutely nothing “dark” while randomly darting between the worst millennial pop tropes, rhythmically challenged hip-hop, and laughable attempts at integrating reggae and jazz. It sounds like a thinly-veiled attempt to cover the widest possible demographic, only minus the actual effort that goes into understanding those listeners or adapting said approaches to her “skill set”, which I’m convinced there is none. Speaking of which, Toni Watson’s vocals are downright abysmal
: they’re ridiculously nasal and all over the place in terms of pitch. It’s akin to listening to a pre-teen child singing karaoke over a Train/ Maroon 5/Imagine Dragons mash-up, only the production is terrible to boot.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Welcome to the Madhouse
is that it doesn’t even steer into the joke. Oblivious to how ear-gratingly awful this actually is, Watson wails about a garden variety of mundane, everyday issues that affect just about every human being in existence. Instead of attempting to make it relatable to us though – even on a paper-thin surface level – Toni plays it off like Billie Eilish-lite, drumming up the idea that she’s socially divergent even though every single aspect of Welcome to the Madhouse
is ridden with the very cliches that any "outsider" would be repulsed by. It’s talentless, attention-seeking music that is desperate to frame Toni as this fringe deviant who, with just a little love, could be pulled back into the circle and “saved.” It’s embarrassing.
I’d go into song-by-song details, but it’s not worth anyone’s time. Instead, I find it prudent to focus on how we got to this point. For those unfamiliar with Tones and I’s history, her career was launched via the success of 2019’s viral single ‘Dance Monkey’, which was like the spiritual/intellectual successor to Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ only somehow, mercilessly, even worse. Welcome to the Madhouse
is that obligatory follow-up album where a label tries to seize the artist’s momentum to make a quick buck, usually fully aware that they are a flash-in-the-pan. All fourteen songs on this LP are among the worst twenty-or-so songs I’ve heard in my life, so Elektra Records failed to perform their only duty, which was to provide some checks and balances while helping Toni to curate a palatable set of tracks which might extend her career by a few precious years. Instead, they allowed Tones and I to run wild while succumbing to one hilarious pitfall after another. It’s a comedy of errors from top to bottom which leaves Watson with nowhere to go and nothing to build upon.
Welcome to the Madhouse
is truly the worst. It’s hard to even make jokes about because it’s so bad that I just want to call my mom and tell her I love her. It’s destroyed the eternal optimist in me. This is everything I hate about music rolled up into one hackneyed, pandering, faux-defiant, poorly produced, gratingly sung, lyrically immature sack of incontrovertible dog shit.