REVIEW: Twenty One Pilots uneasily stride on ‘Scaled and Icy’

Twenty One Pilots, Scaled and Icy, Scaled & Icy

‘Scaled and Icy’ by Twenty One Pilots.

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.

Scaled and Icy
Twenty One Pilots
Fueled by Ramen, May 21

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.

(24) Comments

  1. Disappointed Fan

    This album is a little disappointing music wise. It will grow on me, I'm sure, but so far it seems really basic. The reason I like twenty one pilots is because of their good lyrics combined with unique music style. For me, this album didn't really have very much of either of those.

    1. Kevin Parker

      The songs No Chances and hiw it goes right into Redecorate remind me of albums past, the rest is VERY pop. But I still like it. It's just not as exciting as the past three albums

  2. Seymour Butts

    Now hold on. Choker is their "worst" song?? I feel like Choker is closest to their true writing and musical style than the other songs in the album, which are more generic/ear candy sounding. I think you are correct in saying that Scaled and Icy is a regression from Trench--it's definately not as good. But Choker is the worst? I think it's very much the best! Maybe give the songs a few more listens, I think they may grow on you! Anyway, good article.

  3. This review Is kinda trash. Below is better.

    The thing about 'Scaled and Icy' is that, while sure it's different, it fits perfectly into the story Trench was telling with this new album being propaganda from within the story. In my opinion, it works well as a Twenty One Pilots album, especially after the past year which was really hard for everyone. This album is basically just a reflection of quarantine and a more upbeat version of Twenty One Pilots. Also, may I add that if you hate the album and want to argue that it's not like their other stuff listen to No Chances, Redecordate, Choker, and Shy Away.

    1. Dylan

      I would agree with this. It was a rough heavy year and it is nice to hear something a little more light and upbeat. He also talked of how much pressure he put on himself to make a perfect record or at least to put out something to his and his fans standards, that it takes a toll. It sounds like, and I hope he had an easier, happier go during the making of this album. He has more time to make another epic story album.

  4. Idk

    “At Least It Was Here”? That’s not on the album... Just wondering which song was meant to be there.

    1. Roman Gokhman

      I can clear that up... There's no secret song that got removed at the last second. Due to a production error, some coding covered up a portion of that line of text. It's fixed now. There was a comparison made to a song by another artist.

  5. Katy

    Why do I even waste time reading reviews? This album is fantastic beginning to end and perfectly fits Tyler and Josh as individuals and as a band. Where they've been and where they are. Anyone who has a different opinion is obviously perfectly free to do so, but they also clearly just don't "get" it. To each his own. Now, back to listening to S&I on repeat. ✌🏼

  6. Chris

    Worst Album yet. Trench was at least fair. I think they're writing music for all the 14 yr. Old girls that scream their lyrics at all the shows. They're the worst. But they really identify with married dudes from

  7. Monica

    I must say, I am overall disappointed by this article. I feel that the author is ignorant about this band and the lyrics on the album. The band is recognized for creating catching songs that do no fit into standard form or genre. In Blurryface, they created rock infused earworms like "Heavy Dirty Soul." In Trench, they created hip-hop like earworms such as "My Blood" and "Chlorine." In Scaled and Icy, they have created pop/funk earworms like "Mulberry Street" and "Never Take It." Still, every song defies traditional radio hit structure, harmony, and lyrical content. "Scaled and Icy" is, by title, scaled back and isolated. Joseph is not attempting to fit 3 or 5 ideas into one song like in Trench. Instead, he has isolated lyrical ideas. Likewise, the duo is not releasing a large, heavily produced sound. They have scaled back the sound. And under all the hype and production noise is a band that makes songs that sound happy while singing about what life brings to them. We have seen this concept many times before with lyrics like "this one's a contradiction because of how happy it sounds, but the lyrics are so down." Lyrically, Joseph has addresses the idea of making this Scaled back and Isolated album. In "The Outside" he expressed how the music industry has changed to imitate their sound. But in the end he just wants to vibe and stay on the outside. In Mulberry Street, Joseph writes how the duo are taking a sideways step and growing as a band. In the end, he leaves listeners with "Redecorate" and a final word on the album's vibe. If you missed his commentary and thought the lyrics were simple minded, I highly suggest you take another look. Overall, this album is on par with who the duo are and the album's they have created beforehand. It is dynamic, catchy, genre bending, and lyrically complex. Don't trash the album just because it's not as emo and their radio hits.

    1. Beth

      I totally agree with you there I have been a fan of theirs they’ve saved me and you Gotta know the backstory before you can truly understand an album I love it like I’ll be a fan of theirs forever

    2. Kara

      Yup. If you’re not aware of the complexity behind the album, you should get educated or zip it. Love the album. Great response.

  8. Beth

    If you really truly know twenty one pilots you would know that this one was supposed to be more upbeat and not as depressing as the others upfront because of the situation last year and he said in an interview that I watched or listened to which ever one it was that he was trying to not go back to old ways of his music. You have to remember a lot of his songs were bast off his mental state at the time. He has grown as a man so will his music. I have to say when the first released shy way I hated it the choker was released and I was in love with the album from then on out. Yes just like somebody else posted from message Man this music isn’t for everyone only if you understand.

  9. East is up

    This was clearly not written by a member of the clique. Watch the live show. This album is mostly TOP as controlled by Dema. Scaled and Icy is an anagram from Clancy is Dead (also, it means scaled back and isolated). The lack of depth that the author of this article picked up on is accurate BUT it was done intentionally!

    1. Scaled back and Isolated

      BRUH, what a dumb article not even an ounce of research put into this it’s very conceptual maybe not as in your face as Trench but I certainly has underlying themes. It’s reminiscent of Vessel an album with happy upbeat songs like Ode to sleep but with darker themes and messages. I’m along for the ride TØP has made it very clear they don’t stay in their lane so let the boys experiment that’s something they do best it’s apart of their band and who they are. Next time please use discretion when your messing with the message, man. Why was this article even recommended to me 💀💀 (Idk why I’m doing this, it’s not worth writing a comment over it)

  10. Jono

    Not a great album. Love the mix of rap and rock which is lacking very much.. this is much more for the indi fans.

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