After he famously fumbled a beef with legendary rapper Eminem in 2018, Cleveland-native Colson Baker, known by his stage name Machine Gun Kelly or simply MGK, personally audited his musical style. His 2019 record “Hotel Diablo” experimented with sounds outside of his traditional hip-hop style, including an emo-punk-inspired track produced by Travis Barker of blink-182 fame. This year, amid nostalgic throwbacks to the synth grooves of the 1980’s and the emo phase of the early 2000’s, MGK is embracing a new, pop-punk style on “Tickets to My Downfall.” And what a downfall it is: derivative, annoying, poorly produced, filled with cringeworthy lyrics and embarrassingly bland performances from Baker, “Tickets” is a miserable experience and a stain on the legacy of genuine punk music.
Opening with the tongue-in-cheek title track “title track,” Baker between verses of stripped-back guitar instrumentals and choruses of noisy, poorly-mixed guitars and thudding drum kit work from Travis Barker, who is credited with production on the entire record. As with many opening tracks, “title track” sets the tone for the record and largely encapsulates its atrocious, dated sound. “kiss kiss” features even more of Baker’s nasally, phony vocals with a muddy “la la la” vocal line in the bridge, which features the least interesting guitar breakdown of the last five years, at least.
“bloody valentine,” the album’s first single, offers one of Baker’s better takes on pop-punk. The track lands more on the side of punk, and some emotion peeks through his vocals for the first and last time on the album. Beyond a soft guitar line that underlays most of the track, the instrumentation is predictably boring, and the drums, strangely, are muddier and sloppier than usual.
“drunk face” and “all I know,” featuring Akron-native trap crooner Trippie Redd, re-introduce the synthetic, hip-hop beats and 808’s that MGK is most comfortable on, but feature none of his signature rap style. Instead, the audience is left with more unoriginal, impersonal and painfully bland lyrics about heartbreak, revel, and faux youth. “I’m still young, wasting my youth/I’ll grow up next summer,” Baker, 30, sings on “drunk face.”
Inexplicably, Halsey, a similarly talentless and style-devoid pop singer, offers one of the best moments on the album. Her harmonies with Baker on “forget me too” are the most sonically diverse and palatable additions to any of the 15 tracks. Moody R&B veteran blackbear attempts to save “my ex’s best friend,” but even his work here is soiled by the gaudy hip-hop 808’s bleeding into the weak guitar work. Up-and-coming trap auto-crooner iann dior does similar work on “nothing inside” to more success than Trippie Redd and blackbear, but his vocals are just lost in the swirl of noises encapsulated in the instrumentals. “lonely” and “WWIII” also attempt to deliver more interesting sounds without features, but the production and mixing are so junky and touch-and-go that the tracks drown in themselves.
“concert for aliens,” the album’s second single and tenth track, is by far the most unlistenable, unintelligible retched piece of pop-punk since Metro Station’s ungodly 2007 hit “Shake It.” Absolutely nothing about this song is redeemable or acceptable in the modern music landscape.
Throughout the record, MGK takes a break from music to toss in some interludes, calling actor and comedian Pete Davidson on FaceTime and talking to actress Megan Fox about tattoos. No complex adjectives here: the interludes are bad. Really bad.
After an excruciating 36 minutes, the record closes with “play this when i’m gone,” a stripped-back, layered, progressive tune that feels like a depression-fueled goodbye track to an ex. It is one of the most emotionally effective moments, if the only one, the record has to offer, but closes an album full of bangs with a whimper.
As a critic of music as a technical form, I cannot speak negatively enough about “Tickets to My Downfall.” This album is genuinely one of the worst albums I have ever heard, from MGK or otherwise. Normally, I listen to an album five or more times before I write a review- even the albums I don’t like at all. But I could only stand to sit through “Tickets” twice before I had to put the album away entirely. Its content is so far beyond just cringey, bland and unoriginal that it somehow wanders into a career-ending mess of a misfire. “Tickets” is not only offensive to the ear and to the landscape of the reemergent nostalgia wave of 2020, it soils the legacy of true-to-form pop punk outfits of the early 2000’s. I hope I soon forget this nonsense.