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Twenty One Pilots - Scaled and Icy (Album Review)

Wednesday, 26 May 2021 Written by Emma Wilkes

Photo: Mason Castillo

Twenty One Pilots are capable of wonderful things. They’ve proved that over the course of the past half decade, waking the world up to their talent with their breakthrough ‘Vessel’ before doubling down with 2015’s commercial smash ‘Blurryface’ and its ambitious, diverse follow-up ‘Trench’. While there’s apparently nothing left for Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun to prove, ‘Scaled and Icy’ is perhaps the first album where it feels like their well of ambition has run dry.

Favouring simplicity, they switch from smashing genre constraints to squeezing snugly within their parameters, majoring in pop and minoring in whatever kind of rap is getting the most plays. So many sides of this band that were showcased on ‘Blurryface’ and ‘Trench’ are absent and, as a result, this is an album where more is lost than gained.

That said, ‘Scaled and Icy’ still has some moves. There’s no denying the Columbus duo can craft quality alt-pop songs—the darkly jaunty piano opener Good Day sets a Twenty One Pilots stamp on what could have been a Billy Joel song, while the fizzing, quickstepping Shy Away proves that their writing remains irresistibly catchy when entertaining their lighter side.

The slick radio rock of Never Take It is also a standout, stylishly diving into social commentary and matching it to arena-ready singalongs. 

The problem comes when the songs become more generic. The Outside or Saturday could belong to any faceless artist on the H&M playlist, and the latter’s lyricism is spectacularly vapid for a usually proficient and unique songwriter: “Might get loud on Friday/But on Saturday, we paint the town.” 

The record crash lands as it draws to a close, with the uneven and heavy handed trap-pop of No Chances arriving complete with some cringeworthy lines: “In this house we got feng shui/Get the door to blow you away/Flamethrower, you a switchblade.” Redecorate, meanwhile, wrecks its sense of sentimentality by coming across as forced. 

‘Scaled and Icy’ is mostly a pleasant listen, suited to soundtracking sunny afternoons spent drinking something sweet and cold outside. But, given the quality of Twenty One Pilots’ previous work, its lack of breadth makes it underwhelming in comparison. By seeking a more homogenous sound, they have jettisoned some elements of their music that truly made the band special. 


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