For Fans Of
Memphis May Fire have had a rough few years. Ever since 2014’s ‘Unconditional‘, they’ve had a sheer mountain of hate hurled their way for every song and album they’ve released. Fans were quick to lash out at lyrics they viewed as “preachy” and music that fell mightily short of their previous efforts. This continued long into their 2016 album cycle for ‘This Light I Hold‘, with vocalist Matty Mullins even writing a song (‘Carry On‘) about this very situation. I, on the other hand, have actually defended these past two heavily-criticized albums. Despite them both having relatively poor and lacking lyrics, I’ve always enjoyed the actual music and instrumentation that Memphis May Fire offered. Plus, I’ve always loved Mullins’ voice and his melodies. Unfortunately, with their newest release, this month’s ‘Broken‘, I don’t think I can jump to the frontlines to defend this band any longer. And that breaks my heart, honestly.
I don’t dislike ‘Broken‘ because it’s not heavy. For there are many heavy bands that have transitioned to lighter or different sounds and pulled it all off well enough. (See Hundredth’s ‘Rare‘ and Pianos Become The Teeth work from ‘Keep You‘ onwards). Hell, even my favourite song off of ‘Broken‘ – ‘You And Me‘ – is dynamically and musically the softest song of the lot. Rather, I truly dislike this new record because it has no heart in it. There’s just no soul here. Everything about this new LP feels stale and heartless. It almost feels as if it was written purely to meet a record label deadline because the band’s album cycle was coming to an end and they needed another release out. It’s simply lukewarm and fails at what it tries to be. But what is it trying to be?
Well, Memphis May Fire have decided to go down the full-on radio rock route, which can work well for bands coming from heavier music scenes. (The later records from Asking Alexandria and Bring Me The Horizon are proof of this). Yet in this case, ‘Broken‘ ends up being exactly what it labels itself as – broken. It’s a boring record with only a handful of interesting passages sprinkled here and there. These ten songs all blend together, following the same formula over and over, seldom ever switching things up. Even the breakdowns, which Memphis May Fire have always excelled at, are lacklustre on this record; feeling forced and really lacking in overall energy.
Of the entire album, there are only two songs of note. The aforementioned ‘You And Me‘ is actually a fantastic piece, what with its atmospheric clean guitar riffs coinciding with beautiful synths and a wonderful piano score. As I said before, it’s the softest song on the album, similar to ‘That’s Just Life‘ from their last album, in fact. The other solid tune on offer is ‘Heavy Is The Weight‘. This is a bouncy ride full of catchy vocals, and for the first half of the song, I found myself enjoying it. Then it happens. When the song hits its bridge section, a terribly out of place rap vocal feature kills the momentum. It’s unfortunate because without this, ‘Heavy Is The Weight‘ would have been greater had this not been included. You know a record isn’t that good when one of the only two good songs on offer still isn’t all that great.
As for the lyrics on ‘Broken‘, they’re exactly what you’d expect of Memphis May Fire. With lines like “the darkest part of me is a part of who I am” (‘Who I Am‘) just feeling lifeless despite their supposedly forthcoming and positive intent; almost as if they were written simply to blend back in with the music and have no true meaning. ‘Sell My Soul‘ delivers a nice groove that makes for a decent listen, but it’s perhaps the most ironic song I’ve ever heard lyrically. It sees Mullins talking about not wanting to be a generic band and how the music industry wants them to sound like everybody else; “they want me to sell my soul, they feel safe when my mouth is closed”. The pure irony here is that ‘Broken‘ does exactly what this song talks about the band not wanting to do; them sounding like a cheap carbon copy of mid-2000s radio rock. I wish I was joking.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this entire LP, though, is the guitar work. For me, I’ve always been a massive fan of guitarist Kellen McGregor’s chaotic and energetic style of riff writing. However, his engaging elements are more or less completely absent on ‘Broken‘. Instead, the listener is left with relatively simple guitar writing with an extremely basic formula. Basic formulas and structure can be fine when made effective and crafted with real love, but I don’t get that vibe at all here with this records instrumentation: guitars or otherwise. It almost feels as if McGregor isn’t even in the band anymore, with his former signature touch seemingly wiped clean from this record’s creation. And that’s a damn shame.
‘Broken’ is a mess of an album that stands out as one of the biggest missteps in Memphis May Fire’s career yet. I really – really – wanted to like this album, but I just can’t bring myself to. Even after hearing the disappointing first single ‘The Old Me‘, I held out hope that the rest of the album would stand much taller. So it’s disheartening to know that my hopes have all but been crushed. The album just feels so uninspired and forced, like the band didn’t even enjoy writing it themselves. I think at this point, it might be beneficial for Memphis May Fire to take a break from writing and touring until they’ve found their spark again. If not, I think it’s entirely possible that they will soon fall into a deep, dark hole of irrelevancy and be remembered solely for the material of their early career. Thus rendering any new material inferior in the eyes of many fans.
The Old Me
Sell My Soul
Who I Am
Heavy Is The Weight
You And Me
Mark My Words
Live Another Day
‘Broken’ is out November 16th via Rise Records.