Album Review: The Chainsmokers – Memories…Do Not Open

By David Flanigan

As inconceivable as it would have been in 2014 with the release of their viral-hit-cum-breakthrough-single ‘#Selfie’, 2016 was the year of The Chainsmokers. The self-confessed “girl-crazy” DJ duo, composed of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall, have never been afraid to embrace the fratboy stereotype that has almost become The Chainsmokers’ brand since their initial breakthrough: “Even before success, pussy was number one,” Pall told Billboard. “Like, ‘Why am I trying to make all this money?’ I wanted to hook up with hotter girls. I had to date a model.” Both men were in relationships at the time of the interview, and their website bio also includes their apparent combined penis length – who said romance is dead? The pair’s overbearing arseholery aside – their debut album Memories…Do Not Open arrives on the back of a wildly successful year spearheaded by the monster-hit collaboration with Halsey: ‘Closer’.

Despite their personas, The Chainsmokers clearly wish to be taken at least moderately seriously, the needless overwriting of the aforementioned ‘Closer’, and the album’s lead single ‘Paris’, suggests as much. Yet Memories… is oozing with stakes-less, cringe-worthy, high school drama lyricisms: “She wants to break up every night/Then tries to fuck me back to life/I cannot help it if I like the way she makes me feel it” (‘Break Up Every Night’), or “I’m fucked up, I’m faded/I’m so complicated/Those things that I said/They were so overrated/But I-I-I-I-I-I, yeah, I meant it/Oh yeah, I-I-I-I-I-I, really fucking meant it.” (‘Bloodstream’)

The accusation that a vocalist “can’t sing” is normally one levelled at front(wo)men with unorthodox or abrasive vocal styles, but in The Chainsmokers’ singer Andrew Taggart’s case, it is an wholly merited observation. Taggart may well have the weediest voice in the mainstream this decade, gasping breathlessly through every track he sings on; he at least had the foresight not vocally front up Chris Martin on ‘Something Just Like This’ – the less tolerable of the two singles.

In addition to Coldplay (or more likely, just Martin, himself) Jhene Aiko, Emily Warren, and Louane all make appearances without impressing – Warren’s tracks are particularly rough, her needlessly exaggerated inflections on ‘My Type’ are as grating as Taggart’s are lifeless. Even the potential for an at least interestingly awful bleach-and-ammonia collaboration with bro-country chumps Florida Georgia Line on ‘Last Day Alive’ is botched for another wholly dull affair.

Whilst by his own admission, Taggart is not a vocalist by trade, neither he nor Pall’s production shines, either. The back half of the record is loaded with tracks punctuated with anaemic half-drops building to an always-underwhelming crescendo, repeating the trick on no less than three tracks: ‘It Won’t Kill Ya’, ‘Young’, and ‘Wake Up Alone’. For how cosmically garish ‘#Selfie’ was, and remains, The Chainsmokers meat and drink is a remarkably beige, almost impressively flavourless brand of 2000s pop; masquerading in the flayed, moth-eaten skin of mainstream EDM.

Whilst it might seem fitting that a year sporting the cull on western culture that 2016 did was soundtracked by a duo as insufferable, making music so devoid of anything resembling quality as The Chainsmokers, the music produced by the pair is all too bland for such a distinction. Like the EPs which preceded it, Memories…Do Not Open lacks both decent balladry and club-worthy beats, without ever being as memorably dreadful as ‘#Selfie’, and is thus, a failure by any conceivable measure.