Twenty One Pilots‘ latest album, Scaled and Icy, isn’t quite the groundbreaking concept album for which the band has become known. Some highlights notwithstanding, it at times comes across as muddled, forgettable and even a bit cringe-worthy—as if it’s an attempt to appeal to the masses with radio-friendly pop tunes. It feels most like Twenty One Pilots’ attempt at replicating the work of Panic! at the Disco, their Fueled By Ramen label-mates, on releases like Pray For The Wicked, or even Fall Out Boy’s Mania. For many bands who’ve followed this duo, that would be acceptable. But for them, there are higher expectations.
It takes a while for the album’s weaknesses to show. The first single from the band’s colorful new era, “Shy Away,” provided listeners with an earworm of a catchy pop-rock tune—with powerfully shouted backing vocals designed to have everyone singing along with every play.
Penultimate track “No Chances” provides one of the most experimental and sonically impressive outings the Columbus, Ohio duo has crafted to date. The pitch-shifted backing vocals in this song are reminiscent of the Twenty One Pilots’ 2015 hit album, Blurryface. This track is guaranteed to excite not only diehards but also fans of rock music in general.
Even “Never Take It,” which feels more like filler on Scaled and Icy, delivers catchy lyrics and a cheeky guitar solo to catch the attention of guitar music purists. It’s a shame that this track and others are ruined by some simplistic lyrics like, “Taught myself to play guitar, tearing it up.”
Numerous times throughout the album, on “Good Day” (which sounds like The 88’s theme to the TV show “Community,” “At Least It Was Here”) and “The Outside,” Tyler Joseph’s wording seems like an attempt to cling to his youth. But despite of this, Scaled and Icy is a very chirpy and easily enjoyable album. Songs like “Saturday” happily shuffle along while Joseph sings of painting the town on the weekend and swimming in his fishbowl. “Mulberry Street” is more of an amble as the duo actually conjures the act of a stroll with twinkling piano playing and leisurely paced percussion. “You can have the weekends/ We will live between,” Joseph sings. “Bounce Man” includes an unexpected flute-like harmony.
Joseph packs affectionate, lyrical writing into the album’s 11 songs that are earnestly wholesome. Members of “The Clique”—the band’s fanbase—will love listening to the stories about his 16-month-old daughter, Rosie, and his wife, Jenna. Joseph has never been a man to shy away from confessing his undying love for family, so it’s to be expected from a new release. However, the sickly sweetness of the album could turn away new listeners looking for edgier material.
After the masterpiece of Trench in 2018, Scaled and Icy comes across as a regression for the band. This time Twenty One Pilots returned to their 2011 self-released Regional at Best sound, rather than sticking with the style and trajectory of their more cohesive—and impressive—recent releases.
It should be noted that the duo crafted the album from opposite ends of the country over the course of lockdown. That’s admirable but leaves drummer Josh Dun with fewer interesting contributions. The one song where his presence really stands out is on single “Choker.” He smacks the skins so tactfully— and the beat resembles trip-hip in moments where it’s not replaced by moody synths. “I know it’s over/ I was born a choker/ Nobody’s coming for me,” Joseph sings before talk-singing some life lessons. This is Twenty One Pilots’ worst song, but Dun’s percussion makes it digestible.
Scaled and Icy may not among the band’s best albums. But it’s a humble record, and more sonically varied than most bands can ever hope to achieve throughout their entire careers. For that, Twenty One Pilots deserve credit.