Colson Baker, the rapper turned pop-punk provocateur known as Machine Gun Kelly, has a somewhat cynical view of fame. At a certain point, he has said in interviews, fans stop rooting for you and start rooting against you. Here, on Tickets to My Downfall, his fifth LP, he attempts to capture—and potentially reclaim—his crash-and-burn moment. To give the people what he thinks they want.
Although the subject matter doesn’t stray too far from Baker’s past releases, musically it’s a sharp left turn. Downfall is his project that trades rapping for early-2000s-era pop punk, and was executive produced by blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. It’s littered with middle-finger-in-the-air moments—proud proclamations of recklessness, like going off his meds and "back on all those drugs I quit"—but they’re delivered with a certain youthful insouciance. “If I’m a painter, I’d be a depressionist,” he sings on “title track”, a frenetic F-U to his ticket buyers. It feels, at times, like he’s framing the album to be a pile-up of self-pity and angst, but that's an undersell; Downfall is also emotionally generous, fiercely hyperactive and ultimately very relatable, full of moments of tenderness and surprising vulnerability.
More often than not, Baker is digging around in his pain. “lonely” finds him missing his father, who passed away a few months before the album’s release. “kiss kiss” and “forget me too” are about struggling to break bad habits, be them toxic relationships, booze or drugs. On the project’s lead single “bloody valentine”, he almost misses a flight because he’s so caught up in love, a tone that calls to mind the boyish romance that underlined many of blink-182’s hits. “There’s a renaissance of guitar-driven music happening in the mainstream,” he tells Apple Music. “This song has been kicking down the door.” The other influence who can be felt throughout these songs is Kurt Cobain, Baker’s childhood idol and rock’s most devoted outsider. Even though Downfall is hardly alienating or inaccessible—there’s a song with Halsey, after all—it doesn’t shy away from insecurity or the uglier sides of life. The closing track, “play this when i’m gone”, is a goodbye letter to his daughter, just in case. “I'm 29, my anxiety's eating me alive/I'm fighting with myself and my sobriety every night/And last time I couldn't barely open my eyes/I apologise.”