With new album releases being the primary focus of music critics, as opposed to singles, EPs, compilations, reissues, etc., it seemed unlikely that American EDM duo The Chainsmokers would ever release a full long-playing record. The success of their prosaic dance-pop singles, such as Roses and Closer, saw the pair — consisting of DJs Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart — to a great amount of commercial recognition, whilst bypassing the criticisms of music writers, which, thus far, have been resigned to small, inconsequential reviews of their two previous EPs, Bouquet and Collage. With the twosome having seemingly attempted to avoid the scrutiny of music critics, an album from The Chainsmokers seemed out of the question, until the announcement of their full-length debut, Memories…Do Not Open. Taking a risk that they had evidently been attempting to sidestep before now signified that perhaps the duo were planning on reinventing their sound in some significant stylistic manner on this album. Or, at least, that would be a consideration if this were anyone other than The Chainsmokers, who have been pumping out vanilla EDM-pop, with slight hints of house music and hip hop (specifically trap), since they broke out with their hit single #Selfie, which, as is obvious from the title alone, is a song largely popularised due to its ability to ride on the coattails of a new craze. Credit where credit is due, however, The Chainsmokers have proven themselves, specifically with their single Roses, to be at the forefront of the rising trend of future bass. Then again, the duo hardly acts as the most compelling example of a future bass artist, being sure to integrate its fundamental tropes into their music in such a way as to not impede on their usual brand of nondescript EDM. In fact, that is the best way I can think of describing their music; nondescript, almost to the point of anonymity, and this continues to be the case on their first full-length endeavour, Memories…Do Not Open. Admittedly, this is undoubtedly The Chainsmokers’ least offensive project thus far, largely as a result of the host of guest features that at least add some kind of character to the songs on which they are performing, whilst Pall and Taggart seemingly attempt to curb some of the criticisms levied at the obnoxious frat boy image with which they have, up until now, presented themselves. Indeed, as the title of the album suggests, Memories…Do Not Open conveys The Chainsmokers in a more sentimental and sincere fashion, albeit only on the surface, as delving into the lyrics that appear on this record will merely reveal many of the same themes recurrent during the duo’s time making shallow comments about women. As such, all the initial allusions to maturation on The Chainsmokers’ debut album don’t stack up very well to any sort of scrutiny, rather they reveal that the pair continues to be delivering mundane, focus group pop music with flaccid EDM drops.
One thing that The Chainsmokers certainly cannot be denied is their effective marketing strategy, seemingly attempting to appeal to teenagers who want music to which they can party that also reflects some of the emotional troubles and insecurities of people this age, and the duo’s ceaseless success on the charts screams loud and clear that they have indeed filled what once was a significant gap in the market. It’s a shame, however, that the pair has yet to yield any meaningful results from this approach, instead employing shallow platitudes, typically at the expense of their representation of the women in their lives, that imply an almost insulting level of emotional juvenility amongst their fanbase. For the most part, the lyrical content of the songs on Memories…Do Not Open boils down to attempts at crafting compelling narratives from the overblown melodrama of contrived stories relating to the romantic and social affairs of teenagers. What’s perhaps most telling of the twosome’s hackneyed execution of this concept is the fact that the inspirations for these songs, as detailed in a series of Facebook posts on The Chainsmokers’ official page, are consistently far more cogent than the lyrics themselves. The band’s description of the story behind the conception of the single Paris, for instance, is particularly promising, with Taggart supposedly being influenced by a long-time friend’s run-in with drug addiction, with the singer using the French capital as a romanticised escape from reality. Despite what seemed like a compelling set-up for the song, the actual lyrics to Paris, like much of The Chainsmokers’ entire image, are so vague and trite as to come across as completely inconspicuous, to the point of conveying none of the emotions presumably felt by Taggart towards the situation in which his friend has found himself. With the vast majority of the song being repetition of the unremarkable chorus, Taggart allows himself only two brief verses to mull over his friend’s troubles, during which time he merely elicits the starry-eyed romanticism of naïve adolescents who just want to escape their parents, whilst seemingly attempting to appeal to the average Tumblr-using teen with cliché lines like, “You look so proud / Standing there with a frown and a cigarette / Posting pictures of yourself on the Internet”. This being said, Paris is relatively innocuous, at least when compared to the recurring themes relating to the dynamics of men and women in their interactions with the opposite sex, with Taggart consistently portraying himself as a flawed but self-aware and honest guy who is, after all, “only human”, and should thus never be subject to the consequences of his actions, due to his willingness to confess his wrongdoings. As such, the girls in these songs are portrayed as owing the male protagonist sex for his ever so courageous admittances of cheating and general sleaziness, insinuating a repulsive degree of emotional immaturity and overall lack of intelligence in women arising from the extent to which they can be manipulated and bent to the demands of some shallow guy. Tracks like Break Up Every Night are particularly guilty of this, with the woman of the relationship in this song constantly flip-flopping between wanting to split up with her boyfriend and then having sex with him with seemingly no motivation, whilst the guy is just having a good time with this girl wrapped around his finger. What’s more, there are glaring discrepancies across the album that ruin moments such as on Don’t Say, wherein guest singer Emily Warren refuses to take back a boy who mistreated her, only to do the complete opposite two tracks later on My Type, throughout which Warren is conveyed as lacking any basic control over her emotions and thus doesn’t even begrudge her partner for wronging her. Personally, my interest, as a critic, in dissecting the debatably misogynistic undercurrents of much of The Chainsmokers’ persona is minimal, rather it’s necessary to call attention to the poor thematic framing of the lyrical concepts across Memories…Do Not Open that blunts much of the emotional edge that these songs purport to convey, largely due to the obscene fantastication of what life is like for the duo’s audience.
As for the music on Memories…Do Not Open, considering the stylistic shift of the album compared to The Chainsmokers’ previous two EPs and the fact that it’s the pair’s first attempt at a full-length studio album that they were never expected to release in the first place, it’s a far cry from them at their most insufferable. Sure, the dull EDM drops still lack any real danceability, and the half-baked inclusions of rattling percussion and soft synths still suggest the stylings of trap music and tropical house to a largely superficial extent, but the cardinal sin of this album relates more to its inconspicuousness than it being outright annoying. Of course, there are a significant amount of particularly egregious moments, such as the grating synths on Wake Up Alone and cheap electronic horns on It Won’t Kill Ya, but Memories…Do Not Open suffers more from a severe case of namelessness than anything else. The moments that overcome this issue are highly limited, with the most prominent example being the vocal performance from Coldplay’s Chris Martin on Something Just Like This, who brings a definitive personality to the cut, whilst also far more effectively conveying the attempted romantic sincerity of the track’s lyrics than Taggart’s deliveries elsewhere on the album. Outside of this, the bustling rhythmic changes and pop rock vocal tracking of Break Up Every Night and the electro-pop balladry of Don’t Say at least mark stand-out moments in the tracklisting, but even these songs wear their influences so clearly on their sleeves and employ them in such a bland fashion that they only slightly contribute to making this record less forgettable.
Ultimately, for an attempt at an emotional EDM album, Memories…Do Not Open fails on its two key selling points. There are far too many unnatural, melodramatic contrivances and inconsistencies in the conceptual framework of the record for it to be at all compelling on an emotional level, whilst the drops are too watery and clearly recycled to be at all interesting, let alone danceable. As such, it may seem that it’s better to analyse Memories…Do Not Open as a pop record, but it hardly holds up strongly in this regard either, being so cheaply produced, structurally limited and generally inconspicuous to be at all memorable and, indeed, no one will be talking about this album in a year’s time, hence why it seemed almost unthinkable that The Chainsmokers would choose to release a full-length studio album. Whilst this record is at least less irritating than the duo’s two previous EPs, it only achieves this by sacrificing anything that may make any of these songs somewhat sonically eventful and is thus almost entirely forgettable. Indeed, given how unmemorable this album is, there seems to be some unintentional meaning to be found in its title.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4.5/10