Our Take: 4.5/5 Stars
“Punk Rock is good for the soul.” The old adage rings true for “Mainstream Sellout,” the latest studio album from Colson Baker, also known as Machine Gun Kelly.
Coming off the massive success of “Tickets to My Downfall,” Machine Gun Kelly continues both his foray into the punk genre and his foray into the world of mainstream fame and celebrity status.
Painfully self-aware and combining deep themes with strong rhythm and melody, this album is sure to be a classic.
This album is, in many ways, a continuation of the themes and sounds Kelly explored in “Tickets to My Downfall,” and fans of that album will be incredibly pleased with Kelly’s continued run into the punk and pop punk genres.
The album is another collaboration with Blink-182 drummer and producer Travis Barker, and the roots of punk and pop-punk run deep.
The influence of Barker’s band, as well as others, is evident. In many ways, the sister album, “Mainstream Sellout” has a tracklist that mirrors the song progression of the earlier album.
After the first track, both albums descend into heavily rhythmic and high-energy songs, followed by a slower, angrier, middle song, then a return to the high energy and very catchy back half before ending with a soft, reflective and sad final song.
However, this album is not a copy of its predecessor. Rather, it dives deeper into Machine Gun Kelly’s past, struggles and psyche to create a cathartic experience that is both powerfully nuanced and painful to experience.
Many of the themes Machine Gun Kelly explores are similar to those he has explored in his last album and before. Drug addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, toxic relationships and loss all feature heavily, but with two major changes.
Many of the love songs on the album, like “sid & nancy” and “Twin Flame,” feature the idea of love that is so deep that it is painful and the feeling of being unworthy of love.
Additionally, reflective of the album title, Kelly also explores the effect of fame and his recent high-profile life and relationship with Megan Fox. This exploration is a deeper dive than in “Tickets to My Downfall” and is more central and fleshed out.
Reflective of Kelly’s enhanced celebrity status, the album boasts a strong lineup of featured artists.
While it is not necessarily a new thing for MGK to include many featured artists in his albums, there is a notable increase in this album. Included in the mix of longtime collaborators are some new faces, including Lil Wayne on two songs (“Ay!” and “Drug Dealer”).
While some features are really great, like Bring Me the Horizon’s feature on the acclaimed “Maybe,” and Iann Dior in “Fake Love Don’t Last,” I can’t shake the feeling that the album would be better with fewer, or no, featured artists. this is a very personal story being told and many of the featured artists don’t match the same emotion and energy that Machine Gun Kelly has carefully crafted.
So, the question remains: is the album title true? Did Machine Gun Kelly sell out and bow to the pressures of his celebrity? I don’t think so, at least not entirely.
The most popular song from “Tickets To My Downfall” was “My Ex’s Best Friend (featuring Blackbear),” and we find many songs that resemble the feel and melodic structure of this popular song.
The feature also comes across as if Machine Gun Kelly is trying to reproduce the successful Tickets. This being said, there is genuine pain and emotion in the album and the punk genre suits him greatly.
The two songs that combine to form the emotional core of the album are the title track “Mainstream Sellout,” and “Die in California.”
While the former directly addresses the controversy of Machine Gun Kelly’s mainstream success and the criticism he has received being perceived as a mainstream sellout, “Die in California” provides a quiet, lonely and fearful counter to the mainstream label.
In the sure to be overlooked song, Kelly reflects on the loneliness of fame, the loss of his authentic self and the pain that the limelight brings.
A truly authentic and painful journey into his psyche, this song is what the “Mainstream Sellout” album is all about.
Punk is a genre conducive to cathartic songs and painful explorations.
Machine Gun Kelly has made this new genre his home, and fans can only hope that he will continue to explore punk for many years to come. If these first two albums are any indication, listeners are in for a powerful, cathartic and enjoyable ride.