Last week The Chainsmokers released Memories…Do Not Open, a debut album many dance fans could have done without. inthemix tasked JACK TREGONING with the unpleasant job of reviewing.
Back in 2014, The Chainsmokers were the first act up on the Ultra Miami main stage at 4pm. Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall’s claim to that slot was #Selfie, a novelty single that gloried in its extreme unlikeability. Powered by LA social media company theAudience, the track went viral with all the natural grace of a bully who believes he’s class clown.
Two years later, The Chainsmokers had the 10pm slot on the Worldwide stage, right between sugar rush specialists Cedric Gervais and KSHMR. In 2017, the duo’s absence from Ultra felt conspicuous. Instead of jumping off DJ risers with the Miami hoi polloi, the guys were prepping for their own headline tour across America, playing a lot of venues with ‘Arena’ in their name. That’s a pretty remarkable shift in circumstances, and the catalyst was Closer.
Just as The Chainsmokers logo changed around 2015 from EDM everyman to frat boy scrawling feelings, so too did the character of their music. That transition has proven astronomically successful, which brings us to Memories…Do Not Open.
The Chainsmokers album marries their two ruling fixations: teen movie emotions and T&A. The result is both as subtle as a punch and as lasting as the blast from a CO2 cannon.
As much as The Chainsmokers and their battalion of songwriters have hit paydirt, they don’t own the formula.
Their move into slower tempos fits neatly with a recent trend of EDM stars releasing non-threatening, vaguely dancey pop songs that can be ratcheted up later for main stages. (Case in point: Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha’s In The Name of Love.) The Chainsmokers simply apply an all-American filter: instead of English as second language sentiments, we get brawls on the front lawn with your girlfriend’s Dad. You know, that real shit.
Memories…Do Not Open does not start well. In a true demonstration of failing up, we’re immediately asked to accept Andrew Taggart as the album’s chief vocalist. Break Up Every Night – the one that shows off their “indie rock roots” – is an early dose of yikes. (The bit at 00:28 where Taggart’s voice breaks into a jog actually made me laugh out loud.)
“Here we underline the album’s major theme: I’m no saint, but FUCKING WOMEN, RIGHT?”
Here we underline the album’s major theme: I’m no saint, but FUCKING WOMEN, RIGHT? “She’s got seven personalities/every one’s a tragedy,” Taggart laments. For The Chainsmokers, soul-searching is a myopic exercise.
Memories…Do Not Open improves with the introduction of Emily Warren. The singer brings much-needed vocal variation to Don’t Say and My Type, even if she’s confined to the album’s narrow focus.
While Chris Martin gets to sing his Random Coldplay Generator nonsense on Something Just Like This, the female vocalists are largely there to pant or pine. Their eyes are trained on those bad boy Chainsmokers: when a woman sings, you’re meant to picture Taggart skulking in the video, looking roguish yet vulnerable.
“And I’m foolin’ myself/’cause I know that I’ll never change you,” Warren sings on My Type, because of course she does. “I know as the night goes on/You might end up with someone/So why do I bite my tongue?” French newcomer Louane sings on It Won’t Kill Ya, because of course she does. At first it’s just lame, then it gets boring.
In a track-by-track confessional on Facebook, Taggart and Pall hammer the pureness of their process. The One was tapped out on a phone after missing a friend’s wedding. Bloodstream and Paris were written late at night after shows. “Our partying has led to some of our most sobering songwriting moments,” they write.
What this narrative glosses over, of course, is that behind-the-scenes battalion. The album credits are a real stacks-on of outside writers, including pop pros Phoebe Ryan, Scott Harris and the Captain Cuts team. In short, there are a lot of cooks in this box of memories. It’s not hard to imagine the online bile that would greet The Chainsmokers if they were two women with a staff this deep.
“Its vibe is part Majestic Casual meets Blink-182, part Jack Ü tribute act, part The xx goes to Walmart”
The sound of the album doesn’t stray far from Closer. There’s no off-brand track unfit for radio, no aggressive drops upsetting the balance. Its vibe is part Majestic Casual meets Blink-182, part Jack Ü tribute act, part The xx goes to Walmart.
Then there’s the finale, Last Day Alive, which pairs The Chainsmokers with country music stars Florida Georgia Line. It’s a song that so badly wants to light up arenas with waving phones, far away from those dirty dance festivals.
What’s most galling about Memories…Do Not Open is its refusal to tilt into full-scale obnoxiousness. It’s not enough for Taggart and Pall to just adopt the retrograde pose of their Billboard cover story: these dudes have sincere feelings too. There’s a certain dumb fun to be had with those feelings, but they’re very hard to believe in. “I’m fucked up/I’m faded/I’m so complicated,” Taggart sings on Bloodstream. Don’t lie to us, bro.
Jack Tregoning is a freelance writer based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter.