Critical Voices: The Chainsmokers, Memories…Do Not Open

April 14, 2017

Will The Chainsmokers (Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart) ever come out with a song that matches the success of “Closer?” That question is left unanswered even with the release of their first full-length studio album, Memories… Do Not Open.

The Chainsmokers’ newest album is a compilation of songs which seem to be mere variations of their earlier work. Filled with the usual synth beats and somewhat rueful lyrics, the album makes for good background music to play while engrossed in some other task. Listeners will find that though the album has several club-ready tunes, it suffers from a deficiency of true party anthems.

In the few days that Memories… Do Not Open has been out, the album and the boys who created it have faced more than their fair share of criticism from the musical community. Maeve McDermott of USA Today wrote that it could be the worst album of 2017. However, it’s probably a little unfair and a little early in the year to judge so harshly. Even if the album is not a critically acclaimed triumph, it is not a complete failure either. Listeners may just need to listen to the album a few times before the songs start to grow on them.

Released as a single on Feb. 22, “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay)” is most likely to be the fan-favorite from Memories… Do Not Open. In a Facebook post, The Chainsmokers said, “It’s hard to maintain your identity when working with such an established artist but we feel this song is great balance between both us and Coldplay.” Their evaluation is quite accurate– Chris Martin’s rich, smooth vocals resonate against the synths, making it clear that he is passionate about the lyrics. The song is more wistful than mournful – a small change, but significant enough to make it stand out on the album.

Besides Coldplay, The Chainsmokers’ only other big-name collaborator on this album was Florida Georgia Line. Country doesn’t usually mix well with EDM, so one would think that an FGL-Chainsmokers collaboration had potential to be innovative and refreshing. However, the song the two groups created, “Last Day Alive,” was neither. There was nothing distinctive about the theme of the song or its musicality. Instead, it seemed contrived and felt as if The Chainsmokers had tried to wash the country sound out of FGL’s vocals with autotune.

“Bloodstream” is one of the songs which rescues Memories… Do Not Open from being unsuccessful. College students will be most likely resonate with the song, finding the lyrics “I gave up three times this week” particularly relevant. In fact, anyone who has gone through a period of self-doubt or faced a significant challenge will be able to identify with parts of this song. “Bloodstream” separates itself from the other songs on with beautiful, light flute accents and a refrain that is so catchy that it is hard for listeners not to indulge in a head-bob, a foot-tap, or a shoulder-sway.

“It Won’t Kill Ya (ft. Louane)” makes the jump from “generic” to “universally relevant” with its exploration of the feelings that arise when one sees an attractive stranger across the room at a club or party. The singer addresses both the stranger and herself when she says “It won’t kill ya,” inviting her crush to dance and encouraging herself to approach him. Meanwhile, the song’s musical breakdown is intensely powerful (and likely to inspire many a choreographer). The fusion of the light lyrics and the dark sound create what The Chainsmokers describe as a track that “focuses on enjoying the moment yet handling temptation”.

Snide lyrics and a relatively faster tempo help “Break Up Every Night” compensate for its overly-familiar drum lines. The boys express their impatience, saying, “Don’t wanna wait until she finally decides to feel it,” and poke fun at their love interest with lyrics like “She’s got seven personalities / Every one’s a tragedy.” The Chainsmokers say “sonically, [this song is] the furthest departure from anything [they’ve] done in the past.” The fact that the song which is supposed to be the most unique still sounds like something that’s been done before speaks volumes.

The album title is apt because each of the songs seems to tell a story. Some of the stories are captivating and relatable. But unfortunately, most of the stories are all too familiar – they are set to forgettable tunes, and will elicit little to no reactions from listeners. The Chainsmokers may have missed the mark with the album as a whole, but certain treasures can be salvaged from the wreckage.

Voice’s Choices: “Something Just Like This (ft.  Coldplay),” “Bloodstream,” “It Won’t Kill Ya (ft. Louane)”

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