By Andre Hall
RIYL: I wouldn’t even recommend this if you like Highly Suspect
FCC: I suppose the instrumentals are clean
Favorites: “Arizona”, “Upperdrugs”, “Canals”, “16”
MCID stands for “My Crew Is Dope”, but if they continue in this direction, it’ll soon stand for “My Career Is Done”.
This is without a doubt the most disappointed and confused I’ve been after listening to a new release. What on Earth happened? “Mister Asylum” and “The Boy That Died Wolf” are both fantastic albums that I still come back to quite frequently, so I was hyped for a new project. “Upperdrugs” and “16” were solid singles so things were looking good. To make things even more interesting, lead singer and guitarist Johnny Stevens promised collaborations with Nothing But Thieves, Gojira, Tee Grizzley, and Young Thug. Quite an interesting combination of artists,huh? I had no idea how they were going to incorporate the likes of a rap artist and a progressive rock artist into their style, but I trusted them. Although, for some reason I was hesitant to pre-order the vinyl.
Where to even begin? I suppose the easiest place would be the album cover. While it’s extremely lame, I think it represents this album perfectly. Their already established slogan in white text over a black background and nothing else. Insanely lazy, especially compared to their previous album covers. And looking at the phrase itself, “My Crew Is Dope”, it initially seems like this was made the album title to show appreciation for fans, but after hearing the lyrics on this project, it seems more like Johnny trying to guilt people into liking it. It’s as if he’s saying, “You guys are my crew! And my crew is dope, right? This album is for that crew, and they’re gonna be dope and like it, right?”. And I only mention Johnny’s name because a majority of this project feels like it was propelled by his ego and nothing else. Despite what he shouts on Twitter, this project is an incredibly lazy, insincere and immature mess. It’s like a train barreling forward without any rails, and instead of train cars, it’s dragging a school bus, a cement truck, an airplane, a hot dog cart, and a tank behind it. In the midst of trying to be everything, it became so confusing and unnecessary that it ended up feeling like nothing.
“MCID” honestly reminds me of Ed Sheeran’s most recent project “No.6 Collaborations Project”. Both dip their toes in many genres and bring on oodles of guests. Why? Because they can. Sitting down and writing a quality song wasn’t a concern, they just wanted to check boxes. “Look, I can make a rap song! Look, Gojira’s here, isn’t it heavy? Nothing But Thieves are here, too! Doesn’t Conor Mason have a beautiful voice? Hear the synths? We use synths now!” This is all I can think about when I listen through this album because it severely lacks cohesion. The longer you listen, the more disorienting it is. The clearest sign that Johnny cared more about doing as much as possible just because he could instead of making a quality project can be seen in the fact that “SOS” with Gojira comes right after “Tokyo Ghoul” with Young Thug. The transition is legitimately terrifying. “Tokyo Ghoul’s” trap beat drops out and the spacy synths gently float away like feathers in the wind. Then out of nowhere with no warning, you’re brutally
mauled by a bear. “SOS” immediately kicks off with Gojira’s Joe Duplantier screaming intensely over pounding drums and chugging guitars. The first time I heard this transition I actually jumped and nearly screamed. Each time I’ve listened through this album, the feeling I get as “Tokyo Ghoul” fades out is the same one I get when I’m rewatching a horror movie and I know a jump scare is about to happen. An album shouldn’t make me feel anxious because of nonsensical tracklist organization. Putting this song here makes no sense, but that’s where it is because Johnny couldn’t be bothered to string together all of his stylistic tangents in a
somewhat palatable way.
Okay, let me take a step back. Not everything is bad. In fact, there are actually some pretty good songs here. The one of the best ones, without a doubt, is co-lead single Upperdrugs. This is the Highly Suspect that we all know and love! It was nice to hear the passionate, dream-like chorus and expressive guitar playing. It brought me back to “The Boy That Died Wolf”, and while it was satisfying, it didn’t exactly make me excited. It was good, but it felt like more of the same and I hoped that they could change it up a bit on the album. Be careful what you wish for. After hearing the whole project, I can’t say I’m bothered by how similar it sounds to their older stuff, because at least it’s good.
I knew there was going to be some new sounds on “MCID” thanks to the other lead single, “16”, which utilizes a gospel choir and strings. This track is a standout because it’s one of the only times that Johnny sounds invested. His vocal performance on this is dripping with pain, sorrow and regret. This is by far the best track lyrically as it sees Johnny describing the time he
discovered his partner was cheating on him after she gave birth to a child of a different ethnicity. Suddenly discovering in the delivery room that you aren’t actually a father is quite a punch in the gut, so Johnny’s emotions here are genuine and conveyed very well. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about the rest of the record.
“Fly” kicks off the album in an odd way. It immediately shows off the decision to replace Johnny’s fantastic guitar-playing with dull and lifeless synths, which unfortunately happens on many of these tracks. Then the drum machine kicks in and Johnny enters with his first rap verse, where he details his struggles with mental health. Lyrically, this song works just fine. The chorus especially is rather inspiring as it’s a choir singing to Johnny that things are going to be okay. The problem is, the instrumental and Johnny’s vocal performance don’t do anything to support the lyrics. It’s a message that I assume would resonate with Johnny as it’s very personal, but it doesn’t sound like he really cares at all. And to make matters worse, his chuckling and cringe worthy shout-outs to his pets at the end really undermine the whole thing. Hearing him half-heartedly cackle, “I feel better already! WWWWWOW! Shout out to Pam the cat!” while the hollow trap beat clatters along does not leave the emotional impact that the heavy lyrical content would imply. If Johnny isn’t taking himself seriously, how am I supposed to? Why should I care if he doesn’t? I truly didn’t know what to think after this. This sound continues on track number three, “Freakstreet”, which is okay. Decent melody, but the instrumental sounds like something I’d hear in a generic vacation sport based Wii game that a mother would grab from Family Video for a Family Game Night. Johnny’s rap verse also isn’t too great on this one.
“Canals” gave me hope. Track number 4 opens with an aggressive riff before Johnny kicks the door in and uses his rock and roll attitude to deliver in-your-face vocals with a hip-hop tinged cadence. The fantastic pre-chorus on this got me excited again. The instrumentals were on point, there was a subtle but fantastic addition of synths, and Johnny’s vocals had a new approach that retained his classic raspy blues rock voice. I finally felt like I was listening to new Highly Suspect. It also showed that this new approach could work if they actually put some effort in! Then that chorus hits.
“I don’t f***ing care. If you f***ing care. No one’s gonna live forever so you better be prepared”
Sounds a bit childish, don’t you think? This was another red flag that I initially didn’t pay much attention to despite the opening line being “B***h you look so damn freaked”. The lyrics on this album are atrocious. They’re lazy, juvenile and straight up embarrassing at times. “These Days” and especially “The Silk Road” are by far the worst offenders here. I would provide examples, but the lines that wouldn’t have to be heavily censored are just too embarrassing to type out. I’ve played these songs for a few friends and all of them either laughed or visibly cringed, so that’s what we’re working with here.
The first interlude on the album, “Tetsuo’s Bike”, sounds like the background music you’d hear in the menu for a flash game based on the Japan scenes in Cars 2. It awkwardly takes you from “Upperdrugs” to the divisive single “Tokyo Ghoul”, which is a full on rap song. When Johnny had
initially revealed that the album would include more rap sounds, I wasn’t all that concerned because “My Name Is Human” (my favorite song of theirs) featured Johnny rapping the verses. That was never off-putting because it felt like he was approaching it as a member of Highly Suspect. He was rapping, but it retained the same energy and attitude of his singing so it didn’t feel like such a huge departure. Johnny is not rapping as a member of Highly Suspect on “Tokyo Ghoul”, he’s rapping as Terrible Johnny. That’s his rap persona that he debuted on this track, so not only does Young Thug get a feature credit, so does “Terrible Johnny” even though he’s the lead singer of the band. He raps on “Fly” and “Freakstreet” with the same approach, but Terrible Johnny isn’t credited, so I have no idea where Johnny Stevens ends and Terrible Johnny begins. His vocal approach was no longer in the realm of the band’s sound. Instead, he sounds like he’s trying to imitate a Soundcloud rapper. He isn’t awful I suppose, but he’s a significantly better singer and guitar player, so hearing him abandon those skills to do a subpar
impression of a rapper is a bit frustrating. He sounds especially odd next to Young Thug, who’s verse is probably the best feature on the album. His feature and the hook, which is pretty good, are the only saving graces of this tune. The monotonous and empty instrumental certainly doesn’t help. Johnny said this song was debuting his solo rap name, so maybe this should have just been a Terrible Johnny song, because this makes absolutely no sense under the Highly Suspect name.
So yeah, “MCID” is a mess. “My Crew Is Dope”, more like “My Colossal Immature Disaster”. It’s not a cohesive project at all. These songs don’t sound like they belong on the same album. In fact, they don’t even sound like they would be by the same artist. This wasn’t a natural progression in their sound at all. “Canals” was sonically, but songs like “Tokyo Ghoul” and “The Silk Road” shouldn’t have even been released under the Highly Suspect name. Despite the best efforts of the features, lots of these tracks don’t even have a pulse. It’s so dull and lifeless. When it’s not boring, it almost seems to be trying to antagonize the fans by taking left turns into places they never needed to go while at the same time trying to guilt them into enjoying it. While “Upperdrugs” and “Canals” (besides the lyrics) are good, it feels like they were only made to shut up the fans who wanted to hear rock music. The only songs here that feel genuine are “16” and “Arizona”. I feel bad for the other band members as their presence on this thing is not very strong. The only presence is Johnny and even he doesn’t seem to care. It’s so uninspired and underwritten. The memorable and dynamic passion of their past two albums has been replaced with mediocre and stale indifference. It seems that most of the fanbase does not seem to be on board with this album. If I can monkey with the acronym one final time, “MCID” is no longer “My Crew Is Dope”. Since they’ve (and by they I mean mostly Johnny) alienated their own fanbase, I think “My Crew Is Dead” is much more fitting.