Following the release of their chart-topping electropop earworm “Closer” in July 2016, the Chainsmokers washed over the pop landscape like an inescapable tropical storm. Several years later, the American DJ duo returned just in time for summer, dropping their fourth studio album So Far So Good on May 13. But despite the upbeat satisfaction promised by its title, So Far So Good fails to deliver the Chainsmokers’ once-signature electric mass appeal.
After their initial rise to pop fame, the Chainsmokers — consisting of Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart — continued to perfect their formulaic recipe for mainstream success. Mixing EDM-inspired beats with synth-heavy melodies, the duo often completed their electronic emulsions by collaborating with some of the biggest stars in the music industry: Coldplay, blink-182 and Halsey (to name a few).
However, in a surprising stylistic departure from past projects, the Chainsmokers opted to embark on the solo route with their most recent record. Much like the album’s cover art that displays the two artists plummeting in free fall with limbs askew, Pall and Taggart took an ambitious dive by making the 13-track record free of collaborations. Unfortunately, the Chainsmokers’ risk — perhaps an attempt to diversify their talents or enhance authenticity — fails to yield great rewards.
Without the safety net typically provided by featured artists, So Far So Good relies almost exclusively on Taggart’s overtly autotuned vocals, and consequently, the album plunges into a void of dull distortion. Even the accented rhythm of “High,” the futuristic bass buoyancy of “Riptide” and softly pulsating beat of “Cyanide” cannot distract from the overwhelming issue of monotonous vocal modification — which presents itself throughout the record’s entirety.
So Far So Good suffers from a similar monotony in the lyrical department. For an album whose title insinuates lighthearted optimism, its music is stuck in its own downtrodden ways. Song after song, the Chainsmokers find themselves largely unable to expand their horizons past the frustrations and nostalgic regrets associated with relationships.
The duo communicates these ideas too mechanically to leave a lasting impression. Asking his partner to recall the beginning of their relationship in “I Hope You Change Your Mind,” Taggart repeats the title phrase more than ten times in less than four minutes. He’s seemingly unaware that the more repetitive he becomes, the less compelling he sounds.
Admittedly, standout tracks are far and few between in So Far So Good, so the unique production of “Testing” is a rare yet welcomed detour. As Taggart suggests getting “lost” through the usage of alcohol or hallucinogens, what begins as an otherworldly synth melody descends seamlessly into a heavy, rolling trap beat.
During its final minute, “Testing” transitions again. Taggart gains momentum this time with whimsical, scattered synths as he introduces the lyrics of “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” further intensifying the playful, experimental nature of the song. Amid the record’s muddled vocals and tedious lyricism, “Testing” intoxicates as a much-needed instrumental trip.
The album’s other greatest strength, “In Too Deep,” finds the Chainsmokers at their most vulnerable. Opening up about his overwhelming “anxiety” and “lack of overall sobriety,” Taggart acknowledges his struggles and pleads for support from his partner: “‘Cause I’m in too deep and I need a way out/ You’re the only way out.”
During the track’s chorus, backing vocalist Chloe George’s light, honeyed tone beautifully complements Taggart, creating one of So Far So Good’s only successful vocal highlights. Featuring the tender strum of an acoustic guitar, the track is a confessional cry for help that contributes nuance and depth to an otherwise one-dimensional record.
Despite fleeting glimpses of intrigue and intimacy, the Chainsmokers fall immensely short of both EDM and pop excellency with their disconnected fourth studio album. The duo might promise it’s “so far, so good” in their lead single “High,” but this record hardly marks the height of the Chainsmokers’ career.