Various music publications are currently trying to push Machine Gun Kelly as an alternative artist, and if they want any success with that, they’re at least a few years too late. Though never directly intermingled with the sound, Kelly was one of the rappers who found himself largely embraced by patrons of the scene as a Warped Tour alumnus with a deep affinity for rock music and collaboration credits with members of Avenged Sevenfold, Halestorm and, perhaps most notably, Sleeping With Sirens, appearing on their 2013 track Alone and finding favour amongst a wider, more diverse audience than ever before.
Third album Bloom attempts to increase that catchment area even further, but this time it doesn’t feel like the best move. That’s because Bloom is Kelly’s audition for full-blown mainstream hip-hop acceptance, doing so by co-opting every single bland, overused trope of the genre’s most interchangeable artists, as well as some made-for-radio attempts that can be spotted from a mile away, and blending them all together for Cynical Cash Grab: The Album. Just looking at the roles of the guest vocalists here is enough to tell you that; Hailee Steinfeld and Camila Cabello play the faceless, personality-bereft chorus machines; James Arthur’s sickly warbling has “safe pop crossover” written all over it; and Ty Dolla $ign and Quavo reprise their usual respective roles of The Guy On The Chorus and The Guy Who Needs To Be On Every Modern Hip-Hop Song. They’re all a marked step down from M Shadows or Lzzy Hale, and make it quite obvious what Bloom‘s underlying intent is and how it’s so drastically shifted from the clumsy yet sincere hip-hop Kelly was once known for.
But the crux of Bloom‘s problems come with Kelly himself, and for a rapper whose name comes from his ability to dish out rapid fire flows, the amount that his contributions here feel watered down is borderline pathetic. The Gunner and Kiss The Sky might fool some into believing that some more assertive flows and wordplay might eventually materialise, only for Kelly to fall into lazy, basic trappings that replace any identifiable personality for out-of-place aggression (Trap Paris) or just boredom (Can’t Walk, even though that might be the point). Of course his lyrics are nothing special either, a nondescript rise from nothing to completely derivative bragging and ego-trips on Golden God and Moonwalkers, and drug references on Wake + Bake, Can’t Walk and plenty of others that run into complete overkill in a hurry. Oh, and because Bloom is an undeniable mainstream pivot, there’s a selection of tracks like Rehab or At My Best to show just how much of a sensitive, broken soul that Kelly is, and how all of his pained smoldering is supposed to sound sincere yet drowns in its own melodrama to achieve the complete opposite, particularly Rehab‘s chorus of “What do you see / When you look at me? / Don’t cover my scars / Let them bleed”. The single moment of real heart comes in the closer 27 where Kelly ponders if, whether he was to follow the path of so many rockstars and die at his current age of 27, he would be able to leave his mark, both to the world at large and to his young daughter. Sure, it can be a bit corny, but there’s at least real, tangible intent that actually shines through, much more than can be said for how utterly basic and uninspired Bloom feels a lot more than should be the case.
Granted, with the instrumentation and production that Kelly’s been given, there’s not a whole lot to work with. Generic trap beats abound on Trap Paris and Golden God with a few solid piano touches to lessen the impact, but factor this in alongside the thudding modern pop beats of Bad Things or At My Best, and again, Bloom ticks every box in terms of maximising chart appeal above any artistic vision, especially in the latter case where any additional guitars or lighter synths are suffocated in its overbearing monotony. Now to give credit to Kelly, a fair portion of Bloom does attempt to push the boat out and try for something a bit more sonically experimental. It can work too, like the grisly blues rock guitars of Wake + Bake or the gradual build into solid alt-rock on 27, alternative cred that’s immediately stripped away with the flattened rap-rock of Let You Go, or Rehab which could be at least Yelawolf-lite country-rap if there was the slightest hint of grit, or if Kelly sounded even remotely engaged.
Now, if Bloom was framed as a parody album or with a modicum of self-awareness, that would be enough to give it some kudos, as if Kelly may be satirising modern pop and hip-hop trends. But nope, this is played with a face so straight it frequently devolves into insufferable sourness that doesn’t fit in the slightest. As such, there’s not a single moment here that will have lasted by this time next year, given how tedious and offensively bland almost all of it is. On this evidence, Machine Gun Kelly seems to be the definition of a flavour-of-the-month rapper, hopping on trends to break into territory that his objectively more interesting material failed to cross, only to be usurped by the next of his kind to do exactly the same thing. If this actually does stick around, it’ll be a borderline miracle.
For fans of: Riff Raff, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bloom’ by Machine Gun Kelly is out now on Bad Boy Records / Interscope Records.