Pop-punk isn’t as cool as it once was. It’s been two decades since the likes of Blink 182 and Sum 41 took over the mainstream with angsty, hooky radio hits and the yearly scene celebration that was the Warped Tour was finally put out of its misery in 2018. That same year it was revealed that for the first time ever, hip-hop outsold rock in the US and has continued to do so ever since.
But Machine Gun Kelly, the self-titled ‘rap devil’ who’s spent a majority of his career with the crown of ‘the next Eminem’ thrust upon him, obviously couldn’t give a damn what the rest of the world wants. After four successful albums of emotionally charged hip-hop, his new album ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ is a love letter to all things punk rock. The self-aware title knows that this move is a risk but the confidence in painting that target on his own back is also what makes this record so brilliant.
Taking a lead from ‘I Think I’m Okay’, his chart topping collaboration with Travis Barker & Yungblud that closed out 2019’s ‘Hotel Diablo’, tackling self-harm and shitty mental health in the process, ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ is a highly charged, deeply emotive record of punk rock excellence. Executive-produced by Barker and paying homage to the likes of Green Day and Jawbreaker while refusing to be trapped by the nostalgia that’s weighed down the scene in recent years, ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ is a very modern take on the genre.
See, Colson Baker (as he was known before earning the name Machine Gun Kelly thanks to his rapid flow) didn’t just grow up on a mix of DMX and Eminem. Blink 182 and Guns N’ Roses were both hugely influential for him, the kid who always struggled to fit in. There’s no clout to be gained from making a pop-punk record in 2020, but that’s not what MGK is after. Those guitar-driven albums of his youth gave him a place to belong and now he wants to do the same for a new generation. ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ is full of outsider anthems that’ll make you feel less alone.
The wonky punk of ‘Drunk Face’ shrugs off mounting pressures for one last summer of reckless abandon (“I’m still young, wastin’ my youth”) while ‘Bloody Valentine’ is Blink’s Greatest Hits crammed into a three-and-a-half minute burst of anthemic rebellion. The track even sees MGK doing his best Tom DeLonge impression as he sings about the conversations “in my yead”. Elsewhere the high-octane break for freedom that is ‘Kiss Kiss’ sees MGK sing “get me out of this house and get me out of my head,” before adding “there’s a lot that I wanna say.” And, true to his word, there’s a lot more to ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ than drink, drugs and refusing to grow up.
It’s also full of songs about struggle, feeling like you don’t belong and being trapped by circumstances beyond your control. MGK’s teenage angst has grown into fire and fury at a world that still doesn’t have a place for him. “What ever happened to a fairytale ending?” he asks on the scrappy excitement of ‘Concert For Aliens’ before the emo-rap drive of ‘All I Know’ sees him sing, “My life on the outside’s fun to them / But the person on the inside is crumblin’”.
Elsewhere, on ‘Lonely’, with its stuttering percussion, he deals with the life-changing loss and ends with MGK’s dad talking about his son’s difficult birth. As the musician explained to Kerrang!: “[I wanted to] help people understand my psyche a little more, that even before I came out of the womb, I was already trying to take myself out of this world – almost feeling like I shouldn’t be here.” His willingness to tackle depression is a welcome one, especially in a genre that would usually blame all its problems on an ex-girlfriend.
MGK’s gnarled vocals give those more emotional numbers a much needed grit while the all-too-short ‘Bayan Tree’ provides another change of pace, a soppy acoustic guitar ditty that features his girlfriend, the actor Megan Fox. Elsewhere his long-awaited collaboration with Halsey (the pair worked together on 2016’s TV drama Roadies and have remained firm friends ever since) ‘Forget Me Too’ sees both parties shine bright as they trade lyrical blows with electric passion. Full of heart, chaos and blistering guitars, it’s ‘Tickets To My Downfall’s standout moment.
There’s a rebellion in the fact Machine Gun Kelly has even made a record like this. Boisterous, full of sincerity and exciting enough to make you jump on a table in the middle of a board meeting, ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ is an album that not only proves MGK can do whatever the hell he likes, but that also maybe pop-punk still has something important to offer the world.
Release date: September 25
Record label: Bad Boy / Interscope