Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. We get high on nostalgia. We pick ourselves up with it. When we’re sad, it’s largely because we’re in love with the way things used to be. When we’re happy a part of us knows we’ll always be looking back on the moment we are presently trying our beat to live in. Everyone does this and it can be both good and bad depending on your dependancy. The Chainsmokers, the biggest pop story of 2016 and poster boys for EDM’s big mainstream push in recent years, have overdosed on nostalgia with their debut album.
Memories…Do Not Open is what happens when fame born of vague, yet relatable material about relationships gone south while trying to figure out your own bullshit births an album when a single song would suffice. The success of songs like the inescapable hit single “Closer,” which appears here as well, has spawned eleven similarly meandering songs about sour love and living for the moment. It’s an album about getting off on what gets you down for the sake of turning pain into some form of profit, no matter how fleeting it may be. It’s mechanically personal, as if it were written with ad-libs for generic radio fodder that only garner mass attention because of previous success rather than their own merit.
Pick a song, any song, on Memories and you get the gist of every other song on the record. Even the more uniquely structured tracks, like the driving pop rock sound of “Break Up Every Night,” boil down to sex, pain, and living with yourself in spite of your flaws. Sure you may drink too much, flirt with everything that moves, and live as if consequences don’t exist, all of which likely contribute to your unhappiness in some way, but fuck it because life is short and right now is all we have guaranteed. Tomorrow may come, and if it does we’ll pick ourselves up and do it again because it’s what makes us happy, or so we tell ourselves. The Chainsmokers never claim to have any answers, but they are more than happy to provide yet another distraction.
All of this may work on a single by single basis, which the duo’s success over the last eighteen months has proven, but as a twelve song collection it makes for a rather repetitive listen. Worse yet, all the elements that typically make EDM exciting – the unexpected twists and turns that keep your pulse pounding and mind lost in sound – are largely absent from the mix. Memories is not a collection of radio hits, yet feel undeniably created from careful calculation over what has and hasn’t worked at radio for the group. The themes are here, as are the guests (including a collaboration with country hitmakers Florida Georgia Line), but that intangible thing that he made their best material feel undeniable is not. It’s overworked and, as a result, lacks a sense of surprise.
Still, it’s hard to feel as though the success of Memories…Do Not Open matters much in the grand scheme of The Chainsmokers’ career. The record has at least two addition radio singles (“It Won’t Kill Ya” and “Wake Up Alone”), which is more than enough to keep pop culture engaged with the duo while they prepared another standalone single, and the group’s arena tour to support the album is already well underway. The record does not necessarily have to work in order for The Chainsmokers to further raise their pop profile. Realistically, Memories just had to avoid being a total failure, which it did. It is more than good enough to enable the momentum currently propelling The Chainsmokers forward to continue well into 2018. Let’s just hope they don’t get too comfortable along the way.