Machine Gun Kelly review, Mainstream Sellout: Dull album wraps generic angst around formulaic grunge-pop

This is Colson Baker’s sixth album as Machine Gun Kelly and, in a sketchy way, follows the arc of his life to date

Helen Brown
Thursday 24 March 2022 13:30 GMT
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Machine Gun Kelly has released his new album, ‘Mainstream Sellout’
Machine Gun Kelly has released his new album, ‘Mainstream Sellout’ (Getty Images)

“The mainstream’s waiting! Give ’em what they want!” bawls Colson Baker on the title track of Mainstream Sellout. The rapper-turned-rocker duly delivers, knocking out 13 tracks that wrap generic angst around formulaic grunge-pop parcels. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in the Vans outlet of your local shopping mall.

This is Baker’s sixth album as Machine Gun Kelly and, in a sketchy way, follows the arc of his life to date. We witness his journey from outsider kid (the child of divorced missionaries) through the additional outsidering he experienced as a young celebrity, to the soppy soulmatery he’s found with fiancée Megan Fox. The pair have been delighting the press by drinking vials of each other’s blood and chaining themselves together. The actor – who calls Baker her “twin flame” – doesn’t appear to be bothered by the recently resurfaced comments he made about Black women, or wanting to have sex with Kendall Jenner when he was 23 and she was 17 (the legal age of consent in California is 18).

The riffs throughout this album are catchy enough to keep the beanie heads nodding along. But producer Travis Barker (Blink 182) repeatedly fills out the sound to the extent that the exposing angularity required to express true anxiety is lost. Or maybe this is just an English critic’s reaction to a punk style that hits home harder in America. All but one of the advance singles from this record have hit the Top 10 of the US charts – but they’ve all failed to dent the Top 40 in the UK.

“Born With Horns” opens on a clatter of drums and a gut-rumbling bass, as MGK describes how his mother and father both left him. “Alienate me! I’m not the one you want!” he roars. “Maybe” (featuring British metal band Bring Me The Horizon) hammers home the theme: “Ignore me, I’m f***ed up!” It also introduces some on-trend conspiracy stuff about UFOs and the government tapping his phone. Rapper Lil Wayne joins him on “Drug Dealer”, which pays dark tribute to a girl who supplies him with the Adderall to which he was addicted: “It’s hard to function when I’m without you.”

The title track plays with the idea of the star as “a poser with a guitar”, like the Cobain-wannabe character MGK plays in new film Taurus. Over a guitar and bass thrashing that leaves every string vibrating to sludge, he sneers at the assumption that he’s “got it easy” as a celebrity, and bangs out the old line about having sold his soul for fame. Things get more hummable on “Emo Girl” with fellow emo-pop revivalist Willow Smith. The undercurrent of violence is a little unsettling, but it’s Smith, not Baker, who delivers the lines: “Choke-choke-choker on her neck, kiss me/ Holy f***, I’m bleeding on your Blink tee.”

The sound finally makes a little space around the notes on the mumble-groove of “Paper Cut”, where Baker snarks about people pretending to be nice. Lil Wayne returns to duet on the mellow bounce of “Ay!” where we get more sad-star dross: “Did an interview with my eyes closed… cut my hair like Britney.” “WW4” is uncomfortably close to geopolitical truth with its enthusiasm for the apocalypse.

Fans looking for the inside track on his romance with Fox need to flip to the final two tracks. Let’s hope that despite his lyrical enthusiasm for “murder-suicide”, he doesn’t really want them to end up like “Sid and Nancy”. In interviews, both stars gush about wandering about beaches while tripping on mushrooms, then coming home to watch Harry Potter movies together. I suspect they’re more like the characters MGK describes on “Twin Flame”: an acoustic serenade with a Hallmark-punk chorus: “You’re too good for me/ I’m too bad to keep/ I’m too sad, lonely/ I want you only”. It’s catchy enough. But a bit dull, huh?

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