For all of the members of the tight-knit modern-day mainstream pop-punk crowd, YUNGBLUD presents an interesting phenomenon – he’s the one who seems like he belongs the least, trying too hard to be wild and crazy in order to align with the tired “welcome to the freakshow” narratives, but listening to his music consistently gives the impression that the opposite is true. Leaning closer to the pop side of the dichotomy with his latest, self-titled release, YUNGBLUD provides a brief 12 tracks that are often heartfelt, engagingly out-there, and above all, extremely catchy. Without Travis Barker on board, there’s the sense that things can be unique and refreshing. Of course, on a 12-track project, there shouldn’t be much room for filler, and there’s a couple tracks here that feel underwritten or go a little too off-the-rails with his outlandish persona – but if you’re looking for authenticity in the pop-punk world, this is your guy.
As the decade continues to take over all aspects of pop culture, the project opens with two tracks that borrow pretty heavily from some 80s classics, right down to a couple close-enough lyrical nods. Opening track “The Funeral” evokes all of the glam rock theatrics of Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” and it certainly does well to introduce the album’s themes despite some of its more surface-level lyrical observations (save for a moment where he gets a little TMI listing off his insecurities). YUNGBLUD’s description of gleefully celebrating his funeral despite a lack of attendees is certainly a little overblown and melodramatic, but that’s what he’s all about – he sells it with his highly committed vocal performance. The next two tracks, on the other hand, are simply ready to smash on pop radio, if it’d have them. “Tissues” samples a track from The Cure, and replicates their big synth hooks. YUNGBLUD proves that he’d be an excellent pop songwriter, mixing his catchy hook with driving chords and handclaps while combining two of the biggest modern sounds – it’s the perfect 80s pop-punk song. “Memories” is even better, as YUNGBLUD and WILLOW both add a frenetic energy on top of the project’s catchiest hook. The duo might be the two vocalists with the most passionate, believable approach to their genre. The inflections can get annoying elsewhere, but YUNGBLUD knows how to use them to make him sound absolutely dejected and disgusted for dramatic effect, while WILLOW’s voice breaking on its upper end adds an entirely new dimension – she’s truly killing it lately, elevating every song she’s on.
The track “Cruel Kids” continues to draw some unexpected throughlines across the tracklist, introducing themes to the listeners that pay off later with the album’s emotional conclusion. Co-written with Bastille’s Dan Smith, you can easily hear his own voice and songwriting style come out in the track’s anthemic quality. Decrying his bullies as “confused” and distancing himself from their mindsets, the track is a bit of a strange moment on the album because its quieter verses and louder choruses both sound great, but don’t transition particularly well into each other. YUNGBLUD is still a little rough around the edges, and I suppose that’s the point. Still, a track like “I Cry 2” pushes that a little too far. Under two minutes, it opens promisingly with some evocative lyrical moments and a drum n’ bass beat, but an overuse of highly compressed Auto-Tuned vocals halfway through opens the door to arrhythmic ranting about his haters during the back end. In between the two is “Mad,” another very competent 80s-inspired pop track that goes over well but feels a little redundant at this point to an active listener – it evokes much of the same energy as The Kid LAROI’s “Stay,” and feels like it’s aiming for the same thing as its two excellent predecessors but not hitting as hard.
The album’s back half picks things back up, kicking off with a very strong run of tracks. “Sweet Heroine” is the kind of calming, sparse piano-backed ballad that you’d feel like YUNGBLUD’s vocals would be too abrasive for, but they truly aren’t – in his own words, it’s a dedication to someone who “pulled [him] out of a really dark place,” and it’s a genuinely touching and heartfelt melody and vocal performance as he sinks into the pocket of the shuffling beats. “Sex Not Violence” opens with a church organ and another massive synth hook as YUNGBLUD indulges int the kind of taboo that doesn’t harm anyone. The melody is a predictable one, but of the common ways to navigate this chord progression, this one might be my favourite – Charli XCX used it well on “White Mercedes.” The eerie, creeping chorus really brings out the tension of the track as well, as it builds up to a powerful guitar solo. “Don’t Go” once again finds YUNGBLUD flexing his pop muscles with another play at what made “Stay” so successful, but this one’s a lot better than “Mad,” with more of an ear-grabbing and memorable chorus and a great build-up to get there. You can tell why he has such a dedicated fanbase – I’m sure these tracks are euphoric in a live setting.
The project winds down with a couple more brief songs before its powerful conclusion. “Don’t Feel Like Feeling Sad Today” is meant to echo The Ramones, and YUNGBLUD certainly delivers on an upbeat, crashing temper tantrum of a track with some highly relatable lyrics – YUNGBLUD finds himself refusing to get out of bed or even pick up his phone to surf the web, as he knows that almost anything he encounters will dull his mood. With a couple timely references to current events, it’s a welcome addition. “Die For A Night” is barely a minute and a half, as YUNGBLUD delivers a couple striking melody lines and an interesting concept before spending the back half singing “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Everything has been building up to closer “The Boy In The Black Dress,” however, as YUNGBLUD conducts a great lyrical examination of toxic masculinity and how it drastically affected his perception of himself growing up pansexual.
All in all, while a little messy in their presentation, both of YUNGBLUD’s last two albums have provided some of the most touching and authentic pop-punk music in the modern-day landscape. For all of his contemporaries with scores of songs trying to prove how much of an oddball they are, YUNGBLUD is the only one who actually seems like he truly is one – and his observations on the world are a lot more powerful as a result.
Favourite Tracks: Memories, Sex Not Violence, Tissues, Don’t Go, The Boy In The Black Dress
Least Favourite Track: I Cry 2