In late February, three EDM big-timers dropped new singles within 48 hours of one another like clockwork. Calvin Harris and Zedd both landed undeniable smashes — the former by pulling out smooth funk riffs and the latter by leaning into emo-pop grandiosity. Across the pond, well, the Chainsmokers linked up with the snoozefest that is latter-day Coldplay to drop yet another mild-mannered, mid-tempo number.
“Something Just Like This” serves as the boring thematic core for the Chainsmokers’ debut album Memories … Do Not Open. It remains one of the better songs on this album.
The Chainsmokers’ earnest schmaltz has taken the two boys — Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall — from one-hit wonder territory to globe-conquering pop royalty. Had the Chainsmokers’ debut purely subsisted on this po-faced EDM permutation, it would be unmemorable but competent. But Memories … Do Not Open filters its casual misogyny and outright douchebaggery into pap that’s as uninteresting as it is repugnant.
The Chainsmokers’ formula is glaringly obvious: pair a minor-key piano riff with a bombastic, big-tent EDM drop, maybe with some female vocals and more instrumental flourish if they care enough to try in the studio that day. Sometimes, this combination clicks — previous singles “Closer” and “Roses” are undeniable in their pop goodness. But by the final notes of “The One,” Memories’ opening number, this shtick has already overstayed its welcome.
“I know, it’s pathetic / Fuck it, yeah, I said it,” Taggart bemoans on “The One,” a wispy breakup text of a song played out with the ornery fussiness of an AOR anthem. Worse is “Bloodstream,” a ballad so played out that the Fray would probably write it off. “I’m fucked up, I’m faded,” he croons, “I’m so complicated.” This lack of self-awareness would be unfathomable if it weren’t so corny; it’s like they ripped lines straight from a songbook of fake-deep lyricists (ahem, Justin) and smattered it all through Memories.
There’s a stark difference here from the Chainsmokers’ past material; as overplayed and pompous as “Closer” and its other chart-topping hits have been, at least it could unite through broad brushstrokes of mass appeal. Here, there’s no melodrama at stake; none of its character studies resonate with sincerity, likeability or even anti-hero levels of unlikeability. The music itself is too disingenuous to soundtrack a Shonda Rhimes drama and not fun enough to play at nightclubs anywhere, and the songs that buzz with any energy veer into gross antipathy.
“Break Up Every Night,” for one, takes the peppy pop-rock of Walk the Moon and siphons it into a three-minute long neg for a woman with “seven personalities, and every one of them is a tragedy.” Even early single “Paris,” which recalls the sepia-filtered romanticism of “Closer,” can’t help but unveil the duo’s contempt for the women they’re boning. This is mood music for frat boys and self-proclaimed Nice Guys.
The few numbers — and they are few — that Taggart doesn’t mark with his dead-on-arrival vocals redeem Memories from shriveling into masculine excess.
Emily Warren’s soprano is pretty, if anonymous, on “Don’t Say” and “My Type.” But Warren resembles nothing less than a Rihanna facsimile, further proof that Rihanna might just be the most essential pop star of this generation. Jhene Aiko’s breathy vocals add a much-needed feeling to Memories … by way of “Wake Up Alone,” a trap-lite offering that’s derailed because the boys can’t help but insert an overwrought drop to assert their bro presence.
Moony-eyed electropop can be anthemic, effortless and even a little bit cheesy; the Chainsmokers have proven this much before. But Memories … Do Not Open is a testament to its shamelessly brazen robotics, pre-packaged sentimentality that will inevitably pop up in house parties all year.
“You don’t like me much,” Taggart says plainly on “Honest.” “I’m just on the radio, if I’m being honest.” He’s probably right. Unlike its fellow EDM peers, the Chainsmokers have staked its claim on radio territory by marketing nostalgia through the Valencia filter. With Memories … Do Not Open, its memories are lifeless, hollowed-out and gross, but at least it’ll get a couple of likes.