Not since the likes of MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE or early FALL OUT BOY had an act accumulated such an intense and loyal following in alternative circles, and their quirky concept album about metal health and personal struggles found legions of young rock and pop fans identifying with the characters and concepts contained within. Now, just a couple of years later and after a brief period of media silence, the duo are back with the hotly anticipated follow-up entitled “Trench”…another concept album following on from its predecessor with a sense of fluidity and continuity…but does it meet expectation? Let’s jump in…
We open up with the title track and things are going pretty swimmingly truth be told; fueled by a thicc (Yes thicc not thick), bass-line it surges forward with a super infectious groove, coupled with some subtly layered electronic elements, which are balanced well with Tyler’s laid back, often delicate vocals. Appearing to peter out, we get a soft piano transition, before the track re-erupts with a bassy climax with Tyler's voice tearing into an intense rage. Conceptually carrying on from the success attained by their last record; the new place he sings of, is where he finds himself surrounded by fame, and the pressures they’ve essentially put themselves under creatively; stuck in a trench battling with their own success. It’s a solid start, and really speaking so is the first half of the album in general.
“Levitate” transitions in smoothly too and here we shake things up stylistically, as Tyler embraces his hip hop and rap influences, delivering some slick bars over a classic ghetto beat. He speaks of cowards only showing up when everyone’s sleeping, suggesting that those without confidence or a set of balls don’t want the attention, only acting when people aren’t looking, but here Twenty One Pilots knew all eyes were on them in anticipation…this was always going to be make or break time and it’s been handled brilliantly, they’re very self-aware. This is backed up on “Neon Gravestones”, continuing the on-going theme of handling mental health with some very EMINEM-esque vocal delivery, though restrained it’s a well-paced hip hop ballad.
As I said the first half of the album unfolds very well, with further tracks like “Morph” which utilises a super smooth, soft-jazz R’n’B inspired chorus with brass elements, while “The Hype” harbours a simple yet effective, soft indie vibe almost plucked straight out of 90’s Brit-Pop with a very THE VERVE-esque structure. Sadly, the latter half of this new 14 track album does sadly limp over the finish line with some generally unexciting content. While the strength of Tyler’s songs does lay within his lyrics, it does help if the songs warrant listening to from an aesthetic standpoint and sadly here they don’t. “Cut My Lip” has some interesting Reggae influence and “Pet Cheetah” is just, well…I mean Jason Statham? What the fuck? Aside from that, it becomes a very flat and frankly tarnishes what was looking to be a properly strong album. The excitement generated around their return and the strength of the initial singles sold this record don’t get me wrong, fans lapped this up, and this initially looked like it was going to be a superb sequel, and it DOES start off that way, but they should have gone for a less is more approach. I know they called it “Trench” but they didn’t need to give us the fucking Mariana…