Photo Credit: Nathan James
Late last year rapper Machine Gun Kelly made the switch over to rock ‘n’ roll (electric guitar strapped on, the whole spiel) and title of the resulting album, Tickets to my Downfall, wound up being ironic after it became his highest-charting to date. Now, another MC whose physical appearance, like that of MGK, suggests he should have been doing rock all along (also being the former drummer of the post-hardcore bands Four Letter Lie and Scary Kids Scaring Kids), Derek Ryan Smith professionally known as MOD SUN, follows in his footsteps by making a similar transition with his new release Internet Killed the Rockstar.
The results of this endeavor are interesting, if not always successful. “Bones” sounds like the offspring of Incubus’s “Vitamins.” While “Betterman” shares a title with a 1994 Pearl Jam radio hit, MOD SUN’s track is a tight and pleasant concoction of ‘80s alternative and traditional bar band featuring lyrics (“You made me a better man // And you saved me again and again… // But I’m not giving up on love”), which are comfortably simple, if unremarkable. On the subject of love, the track “Flames” features early 2000s Canadian pop punk phenom Avril Lavigne, who also happens to be MOD SUN’s current girlfriend. Her still-appealing vocals open the track, but the main artist still manages to dominate by alternating standard rock vocals with rapping.
Among the album’s best cuts is the clever “TwentyNUMB”, a bouncy pop-synth number on which MOD SUN’s talk-sing approach comes closest to splitting the difference with his former all-rap career. The title is a witty and timely double-entendre referring to both one’s twenties (even though the artist is current 34-years-old) as well as the era of the 2020s (which, it goes without saying, isn’t off to the best start). Another canny aspect of the song is the repetition of the phrase “only the good die numb” an obvious play on “Only the Good Die Young”, an uncharacteristically controversial 1977 hit by Billy Joel.
The album’s very title, Internet Killed the Rockstar is another unmistakable play on a well-known pop entity from the late ‘70s, the Buggles’ hit single “Video Killed the Radio Star”, originally a minor hit which would later become a pop touchstone after becoming the first video ever aired on MTV. Like that song, MOD SUN’s is thematically much simpler than what could be read into the title: it’s not about the much greater issue of the effect that streaming services has on music and musicians, but seems like more of a personal story: “Without you in my life I’m better off // You’re not who you say you are // Internet killed the rockstar // Your scene is so overrated // I know you’ll find a replacement for me.”
It’s hard to imagine just whom MOD SUN might be addressing here. It might be his former record label, as this new release represents his working with a new one. Or could it be the hip-hop community in general which he’s leaving behind? Or just anyone who doubted him at one point or another? MOD SUN’s last two albums didn’t chart, so it might be understandable why he feels like certain people – or even everyone – doesn’t have his back. So will his reinvigorated rock approach win MOD SUN a new group of allies? If nothing else, Internet Killed the Rockstar should keep MOD SUN’s career alive until he can figure out his next move.