EDM production duo The Chainsmokers, biggest success story of 2016, release their debut album by request of their fans. Previously against the idea of selling albums, perhaps smartly given the success of their singles, Memories…Do Not Open represents the first collection of songs for the duo, containing only the more recent hits “Paris” and “Something Just Like This”.
If you thought that some of their more recent singles sounded eerily similar to their past hits, you wouldn’t be wrong. The Chainsmokers are following their formula as closely as possible in the wake of one of the most successful songs of all time in “Closer”. And since this formula involves uninspired and melancholy dance breaks, lyrics about failing relationships that sound like they come from the mouth of the average attendee at a frat party, and whiny vocals from the more attractive Chainsmoker, Memories…Do Not Open is not for me. Yet, they have somehow tapped into the pulse of the millennial generation perfectly. Since you already know what this album sounds like, a review is almost unnecessary.
The album opens with some wistful piano keys as Andrew Taggart blandly sings “You know, I’m sorry, I won’t make it to your party. Got caught up in my own selfishness”. It’s really a tiny microcosm of the entire album. Ever since “Closer” blew up, The Chainsmokers opted to have one song, and it’s working out pretty well for them. At this point, as others have pointed out, they are the Nickelback of EDM. They have taken the worst cliches of a genre, become its biggest artist, and, if history repeats itself, will slowly kill its popularity and mainstream viability.
Each song on this project features the same musical structure, the vocals being handled by either Taggart, a relatively unknown female vocalist, or on the last track, an AutoTuned beyond recognition Florida Georgia Line, who I suppose are the Chainsmokers of their genre in terms of their pandering, bro-country lyrics. The Chainsmokers are on autopilot, more painfully obviously making music for the fame rather than the art than any of their peers.
When the Chainsmokers actually attempt to briefly innovate on this album, it surprises so much that you actually get lost in their saccharine pop world for a second and remember why they are so successful. These guys are really, really good at pop music. “It Won’t Kill Ya” takes a break from the lightweight future-bass sound and contrasts some grittier, almost dubstep sounds with a soaring chorus from French The Voice finalist Louane.
Current single “Paris” is more complex than it lets on, with interlocking piano and guitar hooks that provide a nice backdrop to Taggart and frequent collaborator Emily Warren’s surprisingly pleasant duet. The actual creativity it exhibits reminds me of “Roses”, their best song by miles. And while the song ultimately devolves into the usual Chainsmoker tricks, hearing Jhene Aiko’s breezy vocals on “Wake Up Alone” always puts a smile on my face.
The Chainsmokers try excessively hard to have some sort of edge with their lyrics, as Taggart takes primary writing credit on each song (with a lot of help!), but ultimately just look absolutely ridiculous. The veneer is so easy to see through, and with every unnecessary F-bomb or nostalgic look back at what might have been you wonder how everyone continues to fall for their shtick. The Chainsmokers attempt to transform the utterly vanilla into something incredibly profound, and the novelty of this should only have worked once before everyone realized the talk of drinking, regret and struggling to find your place in the world was the furthest thing from cutting-edge.
The worst part of all of this is part of the same reason that I dislike artists such as Drake or Macklemore at times: The Chainsmokers really want us to feel sorry for them, singing about struggles of success. On “Honest” Taggart whinges “There’s this girl, she wants me to take her home/She don’t really love me though, I’m just on the radio”, wiping the tears from his eyes with a hundred dollar bill.
Disliking the Chainsmokers has become somewhat of a meme at this point, but having to hear those “doo-doo-doot doo-doo-doo”s from Chris Martin, or another interview where they brag about how successful they are with increasingly problematic and offensive terminology makes me very worried about the direction of popular music in the future. These guys are really breaking some of the Beatles’ chart records. Help us all.
It’s true, we all enjoy pop music and it’s very hard not to nod your head to almost all of these songs. I really do have to commend The Chainsmokers for finding a Max Martin-esque approach to ensuring everything they touch is a hit. But at some point you have to step back and realize there are much better, harder-working, more deserving pop artists to turn your attention to for the same thrills. Everyone knows that they probably shouldn’t eat at McDonalds, but they do it anyway. Resist the temptation, and stop feeding their ego.
Favourite Tracks: It Won’t Kill Ya, Paris, Wake Up Alone
Least Favourite Track: Don’t Say