Credit: Timothy Norris/Getty
by Paul Attard Music Pop Rocks

Machine Gun Kelly | Tickets to My Downfall

November 28, 2020

The results come out a bit mixed, but there’s no denying the pleasure of witness MGK’s complete artistic freedom in the form of pop-punk idol cosplay. 

Colson Baker: Rapper. A-List actor. World’s Best Friend. Indeed, it seems as if the world is Machine Gun Kelly’s oyster; after a brief scuffle with an angry old loser who’s twice his age, he’s somehow come out the bigger and better man, one with the wind beneath his sails and ready to add another illustrious label to his resume: that of a rockstar who isn’t into underage girls (which is a bit of an oxymoron, but regardless). Tickets to My Downfall situates the young musical savant as the heir to the pop punk throne, with Travis Barker of Blink-182 fame producing the project — and playing backing drums on every track — passing the torch to a new generation. And much like his mentor, Kelly finds his stride in writing songs that, at least for a 30-year-old man, are objectively goofy constructions: “Lonely” and “Concert for Aliens” rebel against notions of growing up, and they do so with little introspection or specificity, probably because these emotions resonated strongest about a decade ago. And he’s not doing himself any favors in toning down the misogyny by still teaming up with Blackbear. There’s even a “serious” song dedicated to his daughter at the very end, but you’d be hard-pressed to believe the attempted stab at last-minute pathos has been earned. 

But there’s still a certain charm to the project, one that largely skates by on Kelly’s charisma; there’s plenty here that suggests he’s having a far better time screaming about his emotions than rapping about lacing up or being a Cleveland legend. “Bloody Valentine” and “Nothing Inside” are about as angst-ridden and catchy as anything Fall Out Boy has produced, with effectively emotive vocal performances and some slick chord progressions. On “All I Know,” where he’s joined by Trippie Redd (a fellow native from the Mistake on the Lake), he vocally seesaws through the track’s jagged hook with the type of swagger usually associated with 70s cock rock, turning banal lyrics he jacked from Operation Ivy (“All I know is I don’t know nothin’/All I know is I don’t know nothin’ at all”) into an infectious chant. Which is to also suggest that Kelly isn’t that original either, whether that’s seen in the instrumentals he picks or in the de facto song compositions: most follow a fairly basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, and few pass the three-minute mark. But if one comes into this with the right inclinations — and accepts this as Colson cosplaying as his favorite musicians — then there is fun to be had, at least at seeing how hard MGK is trying to sell this. And for an artist who many wrote off a few years ago as irrelevant, there’s no denying the small pleasure of witnessing complete artistic freedom (nevermind how authentic it may or may not be) in action. As Kelly puts it best on the album’s opener, the ingeniously named “title track”: “The ones who gas you up/Only come around when the flame’s on.” And just like that, Colson Baker has taken yet another colossal W.

Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q3 2020 Issue — Part 2.