I apologize to the other members of Twenty One Pilots’ self-proclaimed “clique,” but our band is exposed. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun’s fourth studio album Blurryface starts out on top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums and deservingly so. The duo’s newest installment in their autobiographical journey through music is a melting pot of hip-hop, rap, reggae, indie, alt rock, dub and other genres. It’s a strongly experimental album with many hits and some misses.
Entertainment wise, every track on the album delivers. Dun delivers exciting and unforgettable drum lines, the synth and backtracks are crisp, and Joseph’s choruses are designed to keep you singing them for hours after your first listen. Unfortunately, the “Top 40” entertainment factor took precedent over the depth and tantalizing emotional content that listeners have become accustomed to with Twenty One Pilots. For example, “Tear in My Heart” is a catchy track, but its cliché lyrics lack the individuality Josh and Tyler usually express to their listeners. It lacks the journey through Josh’s often depressive state of mind and is void of something that touches our soul. Instead, the listener gets a surface deep, catchy track. This album is too clean, too perfect and too much of an attempt to please the mainstream. If it’s any consolation, Tyler Joseph admits to this in the progressive “Lane Boy.” The lyrics read: “Honest, there’s a few songs on this record that feel common. I’m in constant confrontation with what I want and what is poppin’.”
While the masses flock to catchy tunes like “Tear in My Heart” and “Fairly Local,” the real substance of this album comes from its versatility. From the ukulele driven “The Judge” to the Drake-like “Doubt,” there is something for everyone. Unfortunately, the versatility creates a lack of direction. Throw in a couple of duds like the twangy “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” or the monotonous “Hometown” and a lesser album is created. All in all, Twenty One Pilots delivered an album with a great variety of singles, but the lack of continuity keeps it from reaching its full potential.
They say a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. While Twenty One Pilots doesn’t completely disprove that sentiment with their latest outing, Blurryface, they come damn close.
A large part of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun’s flexibility on this album comes from the sheer versatility of Joseph’s voice. He proves that he can switch styles on the fly, often in the same song, and do it well, which is rare. There are few vocalists that I’ve come across that can rap just as well as they can sing folk AND reggae AND indie pop. There are even fewer bands that can string all of those styles and probably a few more that I’m forgetting into one coherent release, but this Columbus, Ohio duo manages to pull it off spectacularly.
The title stems from an idea of another side of Joseph himself, one that embodies his insecurities and the insecurities of others. He says as much in the album’s finale, “Goner,” the surprising emotional low of an album that never stops throwing curveballs. “Heavydirtysoul” opens everything driven by Dun’s frantic pace. It’s broken up by the lament that “gangstas don’t cry” and a beat drop that by all rights should make the song feel disconnected, but somehow it’s held together.
“Stressed Out” is a standout to me, Blurryface’s first appearance as a figment on the album. Joseph’s flow and Dun’s cadence are a lethal combination, and the lyricism is sharp in its accuracy. If you felt like you had to grow up quick, this is your anthem. “Tear in My Heart” is just fun, in its declarations and the simplicity of its bridge. I never thought I’d be so entertained by lyrics about taxes, and I mean that in the best way. You can’t help but be caught up by Joseph’s literal vulnerability on the track. “Doubt” highlights the duo’s ability to make the inorganic feel as organic as anything. It’s so overtly processed and produced and Dun’s traditional drum kit is nowhere to be found, but Joseph’s voice and message remain the lodestone. The album’s crown jewel is “The Judge,” a three part epic that plays a bit more to their live dynamic as a band. I would love to see this group live and see them take on that track.
Music, no matter what genre, speaks to people for different reasons, and this album undoubtedly spoke to me on every level. “Polarize” and “Message Man” are slight misfires for me, but I can see how they’d be right up the alley of others. There’s a track for every mood and nearly every taste. I can’t compare this to any other album that I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t fit in a box of any kind, and for all of its variety, there aren’t any tracks that feel disingenuous or half-baked.
“Lane Boy” says it best: “They say stay in your lane, boy, but we do what we want to/They say this thing is a highway, but will they be alive tomorrow?” In an industry changing daily with new concepts in how music is made and delivered, Twenty One Pilots could be on the edge of a new trend, an album and a skillset tailored for the modern era.
Or it’s just a really great album from a couple of Ohio guys. That’s a trend that seems to happen, but you be the judge.
Blurryface is out now courtesy of Fueled by Ramen.