Last year, the duo of Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart – known, collectively, as the Chainsmokers – were the ruling bro kings of pop. After breaking through in the early 2010s with the smirking novelty banger “#SELFIE,” they chilled out and looked inward, to great reward. The makeup-sex prelude “Closer” spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and became 2016’s most defining song, establishing the commercial potential of EDM’s soft “future bass” sound and utilizing Tumblr alt-pop upstart Halsey. They achieved chart dominance without releasing a proper full-length and could probably have bobbed along pop’s waves for another year or so with EPs of self-serious moping.
What’s actually serious for an artist, though, is an album, and so last week brought the duo’s official debut, Memories … Do Not Open. Riddled with resentment and lyrics that land with a self-serious thud, Memories is a stunningly drab record. For the most part songs plod along at a strenuously mid-tempo pace, and are mostly lacking in any sonic detail that would reward closer listening. The few stylistic flourishes that break up the trudge – robo-funk backing choruses on “Young,” a wobbly synth break on “It Won’t Kill Ya,” the dreaded, made-for-festival-singalongs “whoa-whoa-whoa-who-o-o-a” break on “Honest” – sound like sops to potential trends more than anything else. The slightly more uptempo “Break Up Every Night” suffers from the same “women be crazy” anomie that made “Closer”‘s omnipresence so wearying.
Similar to how the spunky Halsey was whittled down to a sulky whine on “Closer,” Memories‘ guest vocalists, – narcotized R&B singer Jhené Aiko on the trapped-out existential lament “Wake Up Alone,” the hired-gun songwriter Emily Warren on two tracks – could have been brought in off the street to mimicking the bawling denizens who dominate pop right now. Country duo Florida Georgia Line, who appear on the pseudo-inspirational album closer “The Last Day Alive,” are turned into a rubbery backing-vocal blur. Only Coldplay’s Chris Martin stands out in any way, his trembling contribution to the current hit “Something Just Like This” breaking from the sad-boy and mopey-girl monotony.
The anonymizing of everyone who stopped by the
Chainsmokers’ studio would at least be understandable if Taggart’s vocals were
worthy of the spotlight, or if his lyrics betrayed even a hint of insight. But
his bleat, which brings to mind the wounded wail of a third-tier Warped Tour
act, is nothing special; and his lyrics, which resemble hastily texted missives
from a friend who never asks you how you’re doing while endlessly railing about
the woes of his not-really-that-bad life, are artless pouts about fame being
hard and about feeling being misunderstood. While the human impulse to feel for
another person’s pain does flare up now and again, the combination of lyrics
like “I’m supposed to call you, but I don’t know what to say at all/And
there’s this girl, she wants me to take her home/She don’t really love me
though, I’m just on the radio” with the Chainsmokers’ overly ponderous,
yet somehow underbaked pseudo-balladry makes for a crushingly un-fun listening