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Machine Gun Kelly's 'Tickets to My Downfall' reminds us of early 2000s rock

Machine Gun Kelly earned his first-ever number one album on the Billboard Hot 200 chart with his latest drop "Tickets to My Downfall."  – Photo by Wikimedia

Everyone yearns for the past in some form or another. I yearn for the early 2000s when lead singer Hayley Williams of Paramore belted out her signature “whoa” in "Misery Business" (2007), pop-sensation Avril Lavigne lamented the reductive, repetitive nature of teenage romance in “Complicated” (2002) and Panic! At The Disco told the story of gossipy wedding guests in "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" (2005). I’m not a hard rock fan, but if someone gave me the option of returning to 2002 and basking in the glory of punk-rock for the rest of my life, I would not even hesitate.

That’s probably why I could not give up on Machine Gun Kelly (MGK), real name Colson Baker, even after mainstream audiences long anticipated his downfall. 

On May 12, 2017, his duet with Camila Cabello, “Bad Things”, a falsetto, melody-driven riff about a destructive relationship — reminiscent of Rihanna and Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie” — peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100, including his duet with Hailee Steinfeld, “At My Best,” and these songs were part of his third studio album, "Bloom."

He then promptly disappeared — at least from the public eye.

It wasn’t until June 27, 2019, when his next full-length album "Hotel Diablo" was released, did he return to the charts with “I Think I’m OKAY” featuring YUNGBLUD, produced by Travis Barker. The track hit number four on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. Yet even with these successes, he never seemed to break the charts with any of his personal, individual work.

His only other notable instance of notoriety before his most recent album was when he released a diss track against Eminem in 2018, titled “Rap Devil.” At this point, his rap career seemed, at best, stalled and, at worst, halted permanently. He was a long way from freestyle rapping at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where he first began to gain traction in 2009 as the only rapper ever to win their weekly competitions.

Then the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit and MGK began his #LockdownSessions where he posted these DIY, iPhone-filmed recordings of his various covers and remakes of songs.

With pathetic lighting and intimate camera angles, MGK brought fans back to his mixtapes — to what marked the beginning of his career. In a video posted to Instagram, titled #LockdownSessions Day 1, he covered Paramore’s “Misery Business,” accruing more than 1.3 million views.

I have been a fan of MGK since his debut into mainstream media with “Bad Things,” but I refused to leave his side when other fans simply forgot about him. Honestly, it seemed bleak for a time when MGK had no direction for his hip-hop oriented albums, but I knew that he would be back.

Fast forward to #LockdownSessions Day 19, YouTube recommended me “In These Walls,” an MGK-written track sampling vocals from PVRIS’s “My House.”  In it, he raps about a tumultuous relationship where each party shamelessly takes advantage of the other. Effortless bars are present in his lyrics, “Kissed by an angel, touched by the devil / Blood from a nose red as a rose petal."

Particularly inspired is his performance in #LockdownSessions Day 21, where he does a rock cover of Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain.”  In a blue-lit studio, through a circular window, we see hands-in-his-pockets, slightly swaying MGK soulfully belt out about the equal curse and blessing of being in love.

With his signature pink guitar awash in blue tint, he effortlessly plucks out the signature chords that give an ethereal quality to the song many thought only Rihanna could do justice to.

Then on Sept. 25, he dropped his new album "Tickets to My Downfall," and I was just immensely glad that I could witness his rebirth. Each song on this album is an ode to the punk-rock performers that came before.

With beats per minute ranging from 85 to 110, head-banging worthy hooks and satisfying build-ups, there is honestly no song on this album I could not see myself rocking out to in a concert venue — when COVID-19 is no longer a problem, of course.

MGK’s “title track” starts with a beautiful acoustic guitar riff and builds up to the first big beat drop of the album. No holds barred, he sings the most realistic and tragic lines in the first verse, “I sold some tickets / To come see my downfall / It sold out in minutes / I saw friends in the front row.”

Famous for being friends with Pete Davidson, known for his mental health issues and his own battles with the entertainment industry, I get the feeling that these two men have a lot more to talk about than what to smoke next.

Ultimately, MGK’s album is about more than just good music, it’s about his journey to discovering a new musical outlet when he found his albums going nowhere. In essence, it's the answer to Eminimen’s return diss track that dismissed his relevance and asked, “Who even are you”?

“kiss kiss” is the next track on the album. Contrary to expectations, the kissing done in this song refers to alcohol rather than a significant other. MGK has openly struggled with alcohol reliance and substance abuse for most of his life. The repetitive cycle of kissing the bottle, sung like a regular pop lyric, belies the true struggle it takes to actively break away from addiction.

bloody valentine” is the track that features his girlfriend, Megan Fox, in the music video. The lyrics in his chorus, “I can't stay forever, let's play pretend / And treat this night like it'll happen again,” are some of the catchiest, easiest-to-get-stuck-in-your-head lines.

“forget me too,” featuring Halsey, is one of my favorite tracks of the whole album. Mostly known for her pop vocals, it’s no surprise to me that she was so easily able to adapt to this new genre.

Her vocals are so reminiscent of Williams’s from Paramore that I had to do a double-take when I first heard her verse. These two have a beautiful vocal chemistry, with Halsey’s more melodic voice intertwining with MGK’s harsher vocals.

“concert for aliens” tells the story of MGK as he continues to grow older and defy the expectations of those around him. It’s hard to tell whether he has become the alien or the people he used to call his friends and family are now alien to him. His SOS. calls throughout his chorus are similar to the Jonas Brothers’ SOS track, back when they were a little harder hitting with the electric guitar.

My favorite tracks of this album are “banyan tree (interlude)” and “play this when i’m gone.”  The interlude is not really a song, more a voice track of conversations between MGK and Fox. It's just sweet nothings that the two are speaking to each other, featuring the sweetest, second-calmest acoustic guitar melody in the whole album.

I enjoy how this album has so easily adapted to his myriad of thoughts. There is no one theme or genre that MGK has conformed to, but rather a compilation of ideas and floating thoughts that ended up making it to the final release.

Finally, “play this when i’m gone” was written for his daughter Casie Colson Baker. In a pleading, heartfelt song, MGK chronicles what might happen should he die young. He sings, “I wrote you this song to keep when I'm gone / If you ever feel alone / You're gonna cry and baby, that's alright, it's alright.”

The song is MGK giving his daughter one last hug when he has the chance. With his pleas to stay strong and his recognition of how short life is, especially his, this song is a sweet send-off and the perfect track to show you just how talented MGK is.

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