Photo Credit: Emily Carter
One of the worst phenomena in recent musical history is the wave of young artists reviving the sound of 2000s pop-punk, without any of the genre’s original charm, authenticity, or impressive musicality. Matthew Musto – professionally known as Blackbear – has been derided as one of the worst culprits of this; especially after his 2019 hit “Hot Girl Bummer.” The Floridian’s sixth album is unlikely to turn his most ardent critics into fans, but it should, at the very least, lessen the target on his back. The opener “I Don’t Love Me,” sets the tone for the rest of In Loving Memory. It covers themes already covered by countless pop-punkers – prescription opioid abuse, loneliness, and longing – without adding any fresh perspectives. But there’s an obvious sincerity at the song’s core, and unlike most Travis Barker-produced numbers, this one provides a refreshing degree of breathing space.
Across the remaining 11 tracks, Blackbear reaches some surprising highs and falls to some crushing lows. He tells achingly of post-breakup depression on “Broken World” – where we find him “broken in bed,” and on “Hazel” he enlists former-hit maker Mike Posner to create a touching, if-on-the-nose, tribute to his son (“You should know I’m not going away // you get me through”). It’s hard, however, not to feel as though the song’s message is undercut by its placement immediately after “Back in Rehab” – a vaguely threatening, emotionally manipulative number, where Blackbear tells a partner or ex (it’s not clear which) that she’s driven him to relapse and imminent death.
Blackbear has an unfortunate tendency to undercut his best songs with clumsy and awkward choices that ultimately overshadow whatever message he was trying to convey. “Dead Inside” hints toward a compelling exploration of mental turmoil but it’s hard to look past Musto singing “I’m so dead inside” before immediately shouting “woo // woo!” Invoking a similarly unfortunate moment on Logic’s “1-800-273-855” (“It feels like my life ain’t mine (who can relate? Woo!)”), it completely undermines what is surely a sincere sentiment. Towards the energy of “Toxic energy,” Blackbear lets out a thrilling, near-feral scream – it’s the sort of raw moment that modern pop-punk desperately needs more of. But the rest of the song is clouded by awkward attempts to incorporate slang, and an adherence to the Max Martin-pioneered technique of melodic math – leading to lines like, “I shoulda known you were toxic energy.”
In spite of this, In Loving Memory is far from the worst pop-punk album to come out this year and it contains some of the most melodic, memorable work of Blackbear’s career thus far. Demonstrative of Blackbear’s superiority over many of his peers is “GFY,” which exposes the gulf of talent and sheer likeability between him and unfortunately-featured artist Machine Gun Kelly. The song’s quality instantly nosedives when MGK gets on the mic. His attempts to make the song relevant by name-dropping Euphoria and Morpheus are far worse than any of Blackbear’s evocations of slang. Meanwhile, MGK singlehandedly wins the award for the album’s worst lyric, in the form of “My D-*-C-K B.I.G. like Notorious.”MGK’s inclusion on Blackbear’s sixth album was wholly unnecessary and was seemingly made solely to increase the album’s commercial success and general relevance. It’s yet another testament to the fact that Blackbear’s music would be infinitely better if he followed his heart more, and followed trends less.