Machine Gun Kelly – Mainstream Sellout (Album Review)

Machine Gun Kelly – Mainstream Sellout 
Released: March 25, 2022 

Lineup:

Machine Gun Kelly // Vocals & Guitar
Travis Barker // Drums & Production

Online:

Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

Once the initial hype over his 2020 album, Tickets to My Downfall had subsided, it seemed like Machine Gun Kelly was veering down a path many celebrities with an ego tend to go down. Underneath all that ego that’s seemingly appeared by snarky comments from the outside world though, is a man trying to prove himself and his worth to the world. Like so many of us. There’s a fine line between confidence and ego, and we’re all still trying to figure out where that is. Colson Baker’s follow-up, Mainstream Sellout is a look inside the effects of fame and celebrity culture, and probably sounds cheap on the surface.

While Tickets to My Downfall began the resurgence of pop punk back into the mainstream spotlight, which was followed by new wave acts nothing, nowhere, MOD SUN, Kennyhoopla, Willow and of course the return of Avril Lavigne, Mainstream Sellout carefully selects the best of that record and pairs that style to what’s hyping up the TikTok trends. Or whatever avenue Gen Z gets their music these days. But, amidst the musical diversity (or lack of, however you want to see it), is real emotion and struggle of a life that’s been plummeted in the lit up streets of Hollywood, California.

Mainstream Sellout seemingly picks up where we left Tickets to My Downfall, with ‘Born with Horns’ making for the perfect transition into MGK‘s new LP. Honestly, it’s Travis Barker taking centre stage here from the get go, before the vocals kick in. We’re off to a good start, especially as it transitions into ‘God Save Me’. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the intro (when it’s just him yelling into the mic with no instruments, it’s not a good time), the rhythm on this throws back to MGK‘s first rockier anthem, ‘I Think I’m OKAY’. I can honestly feel more emotion seep through on this record already. It’s a good effort.

Maybe marks MGK‘s debut collab with Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes and I feel like expectations fell short here. Teaming up with one of the biggest bands in heavy music, we could have seen a metal/rock collab that was worthy of song of the year. While Oli does a damn fine job towards the end firing out some heat on the bridge, the whole track kinda fizzled out in the end. Emo Night DJs could probably mix this into Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’ for a kick on the dancefloor though.

Honestly, I was worried about the abundance of rap artists on this record. With artists like Lil Wayne appearing twice, I was fully expecting Mainstream Sellout to be MGK‘s return to the rap career. However that’s not quite what happened, thankfully. ‘Drug Dealer’ still has that alt/rock essence that sounds edgy and kinda cool. I was into it, until the ‘Wall of Fame’ interlude came along and although they were definitely referring to the streets of Hollywood, I immediately thought they were referring to reading online remarks on social media and online publications like Wall of Sound. I had a good laugh at first, but now I’m not so sure. Did we all just get a clap back on a MGK record?

The title track is a real piss take on every snide comment that’s been firing off since Tickets. Is this MGK‘s version of Good Charlotte’s ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’? Look, it sure as hell feels like it, especially with that straight up riffy chorus. I recall Benji and Joel Madden taking similar hits way back when and it got even worse for them as they got deeper into the Hollywood lifestyle. ‘Mainstream Sellout’ sounds punchy and is a cheeky take on gaining fame and celebrity. Doesn’t hit as well as Good Charlotte though obviously.

‘Emo Girl’ featuring Willow, released earlier this year, does much of the same. Both tracks feel seemingly inspired by the former 2000s pop punk icons who also embraced the celebrity lifestyle early in their career. Unlike ‘Riot Girl’ though, the more I hear ‘Emo Girl’, the more I want to rip off my headphones. Even through its highly infectious melody. Both MGK and Willow sound annoying to my ears. Neeext.

Mainstream Sellout isn’t all bad though. There’s some real fire tracks on here, which I feel is Machine Gun Kelly’s finest work yet. ‘Make-Up Sex’ featuring emo-pop superstar blackbear kicks in with a standout emo-pop intro and follows a similar trajectory to previous hits ‘My Ex’s Best Friend’ and ‘Bloody Valentine’. ‘Papercuts’ stands as the most mature MGK track we’ve ever heard, through its grungey rock riffs and vulnerable emotion emanating more than ever. This is Colson Baker revealing his truest self, finally finding that balance between confidence and ego.

OG blink-182 fans will froth over ‘5150’ and ‘WW4’. ‘5150’ sounds more like familiar territory and how we all came to dig MGK back in 2020, this is him managing the balance between confidence and ego perfectly. The lyrics feel wholesome and raw, without sounding too gimmicky and Travis Barker sounds like the fucking G.O.A.T. we know and love. Was ‘WW4’ left off an early blink-182 demo? We do know that ‘WWIII‘ on the last record was pretty tight and centred around a fight with a loved one – this time MGK’s focused on the world around us and those getting in our way. I’m a little sad this isn’t a blink song because this is Barker nailing the short and punchy beats, which is heaven to my ears.

A 16-track MGK record sounds exhausting, so while tracks 12-16 could have easily been left off for a later deluxe edition (interesting they didn’t do this this time around?), the final part of Mainstream Sellout isn’t a complete waste. Rapper Iann Dior makes his return on ‘Fake Love Don’t Last’ and I immensely enjoyed this. Highlighting emo pop sensibility with a stark rockier edge, I can see this proving a massive hit amongst emo and pop punk fans alike.

‘Die in California’ is a surprise hit in the making while also providing 2000s pop nostalgia in a new light. The song eventually builds into a staggering chorus filled with summery-pop beats and mellow rock rhythms that feels inspired by Nelly’s ‘Ride Wit Me’. My former teenage R&B self kinda digs this too much. Much like Nelly did, ‘Die in California’ is a star-filled collaboration featuring US rap stars Gunna and Young Thug and also introduces us to the vocal sounds of Travis Barker’s own flesh and spawn, Landon Barker. 

Mainstream Sellout finishes with a lighthearted, emotional touch. ‘Sid & Nancy’ has that pop/rock element shining bright, while ‘Twin Flame’ feels like a love song dedication to fiance Megan Fox. It’s a loving gesture to romance that closes out magnificently with the addition of one last hurrah from Travis behind the drums in a thumping rock solo, seeing the duo bow out this record in top form.

Before you groan at the thought of a new Machine Gun Kelly record being out in the world, stop. While it’s easier to hate everything about Mainstream Sellout, I implore you to pause for a moment. And. Listen. We all just need to hold back our thoughts and listen to the fact that guitar-filled music is back on the airwaves. Mainstream Sellout might sound gimmicky as hell at first, but I have no doubt every single person that listens to this album will find one thing they surprisingly enjoy.

In saying that though, there’s probably at least five new wave artists doing this style better than Machine Gun Kelly. Although he’s still a way off from garnering respect from the rock/metal elites, but on Mainstream Sellout, he has one upped everyone who doubted him. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable album. I think you’ll agree with me here that there’s an ample mix of tracks here that’ll find its place amongst fans of pop punk, emo and beyond.

Machine Gun Kelly – Mainstream Sellout tracklisting:

1. Born With Horns
2. God Save Me
3. Maybe feat. Bring Me the Horizon
4. Drug Dealer feat. Lil Wayne
5. Wall of Fame feat. Pete Davidson
6. Mainstream Sellout
7. Make-Up Sex feat. Blackbear
8. Emo Girl feat. Willow
9. 5150
10. Papercuts
11. WW4
12. Ay! feat. Lil Wayne
13. Fake Love Don’t Last feat. Iann Dior
14. Die in California feat. Young Thug, Gunna and Landon Barker
15. Sid & Nancy
16. Twin Flame

Rating: 7/10
Mainstream Sellout is out now. Listen here
Review by Tamara May @citylightstam

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About Tamara May (993 Articles)
Wall of Sound's Head of Album Reviews. Weekend Content. Pop Punk Enthusiast.