The Chainsmokers’s breakout single, 2014’s “#Selfie,” was a proud piss take on EDM’s last dying gasp and social media culture, a recipe for one-hit wonderdom on the scale of “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and “Laffy Taffy.” But Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall quickly reinvented themselves, at least in the minds of the public, with a pair of electro-infused contemporary-pop EPs, complemented by a release strategy that harkens back to the days when artists released multiple test singles before ever dropping an LP (the duo has already racked up five Top 10 hits). The downside to the wild success of that approach is that Taggart and Pall have been forced to discover their creative voices in front of the whole world. And unfortunately, the sound they’ve settled on is parked firmly in the middle of the road.
The Chainsmokers’s full-length debut, Memories…Do Not Open, opens with two soundly composed and produced pop-rock songs, the poignant “The One” and the rollicking, if vanilla, “Break Up Every Night,” but Taggart—who increasingly fancies himself a frontman—lacks the personality or uniqueness of voice to carry either tune. “I’ve been drunk three times this week,” he sings on “Bloodstream,” relying too heavily on gratuitous expletives to make up for a dearth of genuine pathos. The 12 tracks here all touch on the basic ups and downs (mostly the downs) of young love, with two back-to-back songs—one from a male perspective (“Honest”), the other from a female one (“Wake Up Alone”)—barely switching things up to detail the inconveniences of fucking strangers while famous.
The Chainsmokers are more interested in following in the steps of Fun. than continuing to carve out their own niche.
Taggart’s tossed-off delivery better serves the album’s lead single, “Paris,” on which he uncannily calls to mind Third Eye Blind’s Stephen Jenkins. The track’s 1990s vibe is paired with a Postal Service-style call-and-response featuring de facto group member Emily Warren, who’s featured as a songwriter and vocalist throughout Memories. “We were staying in Paris/To get away from your parents,” Taggart sings, highlighting either the narrator’s oblivious privilege or his own skill composing half rhymes—probably both.
There are hints—in the sliced-up vocal drop on “The One” and the metallic synth pads on “Bloodstream”—of the synth-pop splendor and focus on melody that made the Chainsmokers’s 2015 hit “Roses” sound so unexpectedly fresh, while “Something Just Like This” all but carbon copies that song’s synth hook, albeit to much lesser effect. In case it wasn’t clear by the album’s end that Taggart and Pall are more interested in following in the steps of Fun. than continuing to carve out their own niche, they close Memories with “Last Day Alive,” a cellphone-flashlights-in-the-air power ballad featuring the country band Florida Georgia Line, by which point the ironic edge their early singles suggested has been summarily dulled.