When Machine Gun Kelly announced he was going to make a pop-punk album, there was a lot of apprehension. Hell, even when the first bits of evidence of that came around, there was still apprehension. As much as MGK has made his appreciation for rock known, the increasingly shallow pivots he’s made within hip-hop recently with Bloom and Hotel Diablo have shown that he’s not averse to low-balling if it can get him somewhere. Even when putting aside the narrative that Eminem ousted his career as a rapper and this is merely a contingency plan, nothing in the lead-up to Tickets To My Downfall has been anything to write home about, or anything to suggest that this would go anywhere if it wasn’t for brand recognition. For one, MGK’s definition of pop-punk seems to begin and end at the modern, heavily polished and compressed iterations that lower the punk stakes considerably and lean further into pure pop-rock, and even with Travis Barker aligning himself as a creative partner among this entire endeavour, when considering he hasn’t hesitated to wedge his way into any other two-bit rapper’s attempt at a pop-rock crossover in recent months, that’s a consolation prize at the very most. Sure, the output might have been vaguely catchy thus far, but the evidence that MGK’s aptitude for this sort of thing begins and ends at his ability to craft a hook has been rather blatant, and if that’s all that Tickets To My Downfall is hoping to bring, the voracity of the buzz that’s engulfed it doesn’t seem to be building to a great deal.
That’s even when comparing to the inexplicable number of passes MGK’s decidedly sub-par modern wave of output has been offered, of which Tickets To My Downfall easily nestles among in terms of how little it has to offer. Of course, when the album is almost exclusively built on the liberty to consentually pillage blink-182’s entire catalogue, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it’s also an example of MGK’s galling ability to make even a supposed passion project like this sound hollow. If this was really driven by a deeper creative impetus, it wouldn’t sound so blatantly like an act, as if MGK is wearing the pop-punk skin to wrangle up more favour from the crossover crowd he’s always been lumped in, while doing nothing to leave his own mark besides the novelty of a being a rapper moonlighting in this particular guise.
That goes all the way down to the fundamentals of what this album offers too, and how MGK’s understanding and application of ‘pop-punk’ rests in watered-down, overproduced homogeneity that places marketability as its greatest asset. It’s all well and good to make the guitars bright and prominent to lean towards the classic pop-punk sound (if anything, it’s the thing that Tickets To My Downfall gets right the most consistently), but all too often, noticeable concessions are being made to so blatantly shoot for crossover appeal above anything else. It’s no surprise that both Trippie Redd and blackbear bring in a trap section to wedge in for their respective features on all I know and my ex’s best friend to pretty much confirm that this is pop-punk in name and costume form only, but any semblance of edge or bite are almost totally perfunctory. There’s a heavier gallop to title track and WWIII, but they’re accessories to a sound playing up the least interesting or exciting versions of itself. kiss kiss and nothing inside adhere to the modern blink-182 handbook where sleekness and flimsy overworking are effectively interchangeable, whereas bloody valentine and concert for aliens sound so crushed and overly compact to create the illusion of real propulsion, even as two of the best songs here. At least Travis Barker gives the drums a bit of spice with his power and expectedly intricate fills that are deserving of a far better sound than this overall. Without him this would literally be indistinguishable from dozens of mid- to low-level pop-punk and pop-rock chancers, really only differentiated in this case by the fact that MGK is a noticeably bad singer with barely any sort of range or dynamism in his voice. It’s another instance where the pop-punk guise makes a bit more sense for this album, seeing as it’s one of the only wide-reaching genres where vocal talent is more of a bonus than a necessity, and that at least puts MGK on footing he can work with.
Usually when that’s the case though, there’s some heavy lifting done in the writing to make up for it, not running through the same tired old checkpoints to curry favour with a young audience while showing no personality beyond that. It’s easy to see how much MGK’s friendship with Yungblud has rubbed off in him in this sense, only with him being the broader American equivalent that can have even less tact, believe it or not. drunk face is the first big indicator with the line “I’m overcompensating for heartbreak” on a song about debauched self-medication, with that extreme lack of subtlety carrying over to a stock bad relationship song in forget me too (accompanied by a disappointingly shrill Halsey), and the puddle-deep ‘emotional’ closer play this when i’m gone to drill down even further into the pandering potential. It’s difficult to really get annoyed by yet another iteration of this exact same thing, instead of just exasperated that these same themes are being so shallowly pilfered once again, with the results being just as throwaway. With MGK though, he clearly wants to frame himself as some kind of rebel bad boy but it’s all so phony; the line “My label hates that I’m like this” on all I know feels particularly telling, like he’s trying to big himself up by showing how he supposedly defies conventionality and goes down his own path, even though this whole album couldn’t sound more focus-grouped and made by committee if it tried. That’s definitely the case with the banyan tree interlude, a full minute-and-a-half of gooey-eyed flirting between MGK and Megan Fox as a blatant attempt to shift the mood to show MGK’s softer side and ensure all bases are suitably covered. As an album, Tickets To My Downfall barely even tries to hide its money-making purpose by being so mercenary in the directions it takes itself; there’s even the token ‘comedy’ skit in kevin and barracuda, arguably the most unfunny and cringeworthy thing ever put to record, but it least it ticks another point off on the spreadsheet.
That’s where Tickets To My Downfall was always going to fall, and fall hard. For all the spin and framing of this being a bold new direction borne out of real creative drive and desire, it’s about as bog-standard as alt-pop albums come, only this time looking to tap even further into its listeners’ nostalgia glands and juice them for all they’re worth. It’s cynicism doubled back on itself, really only saved from utter worthlessness by a solid number of catchy moments and the fact that Travis Barker’s drumming makes it better than it has any right to be. Beyond that though, MGK remains one of the most creatively flighty and profit-driven artists to somehow worm his way into the alternative scene, and again, the frankly obscene number of chances he’s been given to deliver never build up to a climax that’s compelling or even relevant. If this didn’t have his name attached, it would go nowhere, such is the deep lack of character, profiency or even charm on display here. In other words, it’s a Machine Gun Kelly album, only this time trying to use its new hat as a distraction.
For fans of: blink-182, Yungblud, 24kGoldn
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Tickets To My Downfall’ by Machine Gun Kelly is out now on Bad Boy Records / Interscope Records.