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Machine Gun Kelly - Tickets to My Downfall (Album Review)

Thursday, 01 October 2020 Written by Huw Baines

‘Tickets to My Downfall’ requires some unpacking, and enjoying it requires a little good faith. The key question is this: behind the posturing and conference room cringe, how should we approach Machine Gun Kelly’s pivot from rapper to pop-punk frontman? With a dose of cynicism, or as we would any other debut in the genre? The answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not entirely clear cut.

After four albums of so-so hip hop we have before us a so-so pop-punk record defined not by its grandstanding but by its unerring competence. ‘Tickets to My Downfall’ is absolutely fine—it can calmly paraphrase recent genre landmarks and in exec producer Travis Barker it has a champion who’s been knocking this stuff out for decades.

Here we have a collection of songs that span maudlin soul searching and peppy power-chord crunch, neatly aping the style set in stone by Barker’s career with Blink-182.

Kelly is either a Blink head or a quick study, but rather than wind the clock back to ‘Enema of the State’ he channels the gleaming, quasi-weighty work that followed their 2003 self-titled record into songs that are solid and unspectacular.

There are nods here to punk history that ring terribly false—All I Know’s riff on Operation Ivy’s Knowledge is grim—but no more than they would coming from Twenty One Pilots or 5 Seconds of Summer. It’s testament to the distance between where pop-punk started and where it is now that even a nod to Blink’s Feeling This in Drunk Face’s overlapping outro vocals feels achingly anachronistic. 

Where ‘Tickets to My Downfall’ fails to stick the landing is in clinging to its veil of seriousness, which radiates out from Kelly’s studied, gruff vocals. This is not a fun record, and in this commercially-focused mode pop-punk is as throwaway, and nominally fun, as it gets. If only Kelly could borrow a little enthusiasm from Halsey, whose guest spot on the brutally over-the-top Forget Me Too is a blast.

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