The middling Midwest rapper has veered into pop punk on his latest LP and the outcome is better than expected.
Machine Gun Kelly spent the better part of the 2010s being written off as another melodramatic, corny, white rapper with a rapid-fire flow and not much else to offer — and that’s because he was. Barring a few charting hits and an admirable, albeit short-lived back and forth with Eminem, his career as a rapper was middling at best. With this latest LP, MGK ditches his mundane, multisyllabic flows and generic beats and dons the sound and aesthetic of early 2000s pop-punk, and mostly succeeds in this new realm.
While Tickets to My Downfall is a reinvention for MGK himself, it doesn’t do anything to reinvent or breathe new life into the genre, and that’s perfectly fine. This album thrives in the moments in which it harvests that feeling of early-aughts nostalgia, which is aided greatly by the inclusion of Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker throughout this project.
In contrast, the album’s biggest shortcomings come when it tries way too hard to modernize and clean up the sound. The ethos of punk music is that it comes straight from the heart, including all of its raw unfiltered ugliness, it’s a pure expression of emotion that should be unadulterated.
The instances of quantized trap hi-hats or obvious vocal correction take away from that and make the music way more poppy and cookie-cutter than it should be. Even if bands like Green Day, Sum 41 and Blink-182 produced a more polished and accessible version of punk, MGK takes it to the point where this project could be labelled pop-pop-punk.
Another area in which this album tries too hard to increase its pop appeal is the features, and it suffers for it. The album has four features across its runtime, all varying from horrible to decent. While Halsey and blackbear both do a decent job on their respective tracks, Trippie Redd and Iann Dior have abysmal features. Both of them are astonishingly out of place on their respective tracks and have absolutely zero chemistry with MGK or the music.
As far as MGK himself goes, he can be very hit-or-miss here, but surprisingly he does mostly hit. Vocally, he’s nothing special, but on the songs where there’s no obvious pitch-correction, the rasp in his voice and the tone of his delivery feel very fitting for this genre.
Barring a couple of moments of real depth (“lonely” and “play this when i’m gone”) this album is pretty shallow and juvenile lyrically, and some lines are outright horrible. While in most other cases this would be a real issue, it’s fine for what this album is trying to accomplish. It’s clear that this album is MGK doing his best Blink-182 impression, and that spirit of silly immaturity really fits the mould.
Another way in which this album attempts to give itself a bit more personality is through its interludes, which feature Pete Davidson and Megan Fox. While there’s nothing inherently bad about these interludes, they have nothing much to offer after the first listen. “banyan tree – interlude” actually features a good snippet in the second half, but it’s a chore to sit through the Megan Fox/MGK conversation that precedes it.
Still, there are some saving graces on here. The album’s opener “title track” starts the album off strong, really capturing the essence of the sound that this album is going for and excelling at it. The most clear-cut moment of Blink-182 worship here is “concert for aliens” and it succeeds in restoring that sound, though it can feel a bit too derivative.
The aforementioned moments of depth, “lonely” and “play this when i’m gone” are both solid, emotional tracks. The latter of the two is the album’s closer and serves as a heartfelt letter to his daughter in the event that he reaches his inevitable downfall. It’s a pretty touching moment that closes the album on a high note.
In the end, Tickets to My Downfall might not bring anything new to the pop-punk genre, but it doesn’t need to. As generic and derivative as a lot of the songs on here can be, they do exactly what they set out to do, and that’s to be mindless, fun, pop-punk tracks.
Barring some admittedly horrible songs, this album is a mostly enjoyable pop-punk release for the majority of its 36-minute runtime. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel – and MGK definitely isn’t the pop-punk revivalist some outlets are making him out to be – Tickets to My Downfall is a decent, entry-level pop-punk album that’s popularity could help to bring the genre back to the mainstream.
Trial Track: concert for aliens