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‘Scaled and Icy’ Review: how this Twenty One Pilots Album is Different than Anything They’ve Done Before


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Twenty One Pilots’ new album is out, and it’s proven to be an instant hit. Now that the hype has died down a bit, it’s time to take a closer look at the band’s sixth release, interestingly titled Scaled and Icy.

The band is made up of Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, a duo from Ohio who has exceeded expectation after expectation after shooting to real cult status with 2015’s Blurryface album. The release’s hit single, “Stressed Out,” became the first song to ever reach one billion streams on Spotify, and that momentum continued with the release of Trench in 2018. The two friends have become known for their hard to describe, alt-rock, indie-pop, synthetic-rap sort of sound—my personal favorite song of theirs even features a ukulele—and hard-hitting lyrics.

Scaled and Icy certainly has a lot to live up to, especially after three years and a quarantine between it and Trench. Would the album continue the story and lyric-weaving that helped make Blurryface such a hit, or would the duo continue with the more provocative, harsher tone of Trench?

The answer to those questions, I think it’s fair to say, is both yes and no. As the eighties-esque cover art and the introductory, happy-go-lucky single “Saturday” suggest, Scaled and Icy is a whole new breed of Twenty One Pilots. A piece of previous albums can be found in this newest release—“No Chances” channels Vessel’s eclectic pop-with-a-razer-edge groove, “The Outside” could have easily fit in with Blurryface’s dystopian-type song list, and “Redecorate” (my personal favorite on the album) echoes Trench’s anxious, introspective tones—but other songs, like “Saturday,” “Never Take It,” and “Shy Away” just feel different than anything they’ve done before.

The Ohio duo is famous for their unique sounds, poetic lyrics, and ability to avoid being pinned to a single genre. Photo thanks to Coup de Main.

The problem I think many critics have with the album has to do with this amalgamation of sounds. While the different songs are certainly Twenty One Pilots songs, each individual one doesn’t necessarily fit with the next. The band became famous in part due to how well put-together Blurryface’s theme is, and each previous album works really well as a compact, easily digestible unit. Scaled and Icy has a lot of reach and variety, but this then runs the risk of having too much variety in a single release, especially for a band that’s as established in their ways as Twenty One Pilots.

A reviewer for alt-music magazine Kerrang! sums this sentiment up nicely: “Scaled and Icy does, however, lack the consistency of a record like Blurryface, which delivered hit after hit without ever dropping the ball… Perhaps it’s a harsh criticism, but for one of this generation’s most creative and mould-breaking acts, there are times on Scaled and Icy where things just feel a little safe.”

However, the album is by no means a flop. It sees the duo at what is perhaps their most at peace—the last few albums have been nonstop, full-throttle efforts with strict meta and deep topics. While Scaled and Icy certainly has its low points lyric-wise (and by low points I mean in mood and topic), many of the songs, like “Mulberry Street,” “Saturday,” “Good Day,” and “Bounce Man” are more boppy and fun than anything. Any deeper meaning is hidden below the surface. Really, it’s not an unwelcome change of pace—different, for sure, but still in the vein of great, catchy music.

Joseph doesn’t leave us—both the critics and the fans—wondering the intention behind the album, though. “I introduced this brand new, sparkling, happy, colorful record,” he stated in an interview with Billboard,  “and I hope that people understand that the reason I’m ending it with “Redecorate” is that we’re headed in another direction after this. That is an intentional hint at what I want to try to do next. It’s not really a cliffhanger, but it is a precursor.”

Like always, Twenty One Pilots has proven to be ambitious with their work. Scaled and Icy might not go down in the history books like Blurryface, and it might have its less ambitious, less Twenty One Pilots-esque moments here and there, but the album has still proven itself with its hidden depths, boppy songs, and impressive display of range. And, as Joseph hinted, they’re just getting started.

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