Blurryface is a very dizzying and ambitious album. Sure, they could have taken the safe route here and went with Vessel: Part Deux, but why? There are many adjectives that I can use to describe the fourteen-track sophomore offering from Twenty One Pilots, but like the music that is within the album, I would be all over the spectrum. My thesaurus would be on fire from flipping pages.
Following the much-deserved success of Twenty One Pilots’ first album Vessel, I was wondering if we would we get an honest representation of how the two-man band has grown from playing small clubs to sold out festivals. To understand Blurryface, you have to understand that it’s a character created by singer Tyler Joseph. Not so much a character however, but a personification of the insecurities within himself and his rise to fame, but also the listener. Yes, good ol’ perfect “you”.
1) “Heavydirtysoul”: The track starts off with a fast drum cadence from drummer Josh Dun paired up with Joseph’s rapid delivery rapping. The tempo of the track could indicate how manic Joseph or “Blurryface” feels as the insecurities creep in. There’s a part in the bridge where Joseph sings “death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit”. Death is a great motivator, but the idea that you can perish at any time almost sets the stage for the frantic pace of the album.
2) “Stressed Out”: There’s an interesting parallel here as Joseph has vocal that repeats throughout the song “My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think”. If you notice throughout the album, there are sudden changes of vocal tone or alterations (see “Fairly Local”) that will indicate a difference between the character and Joseph. The song shows a longing for the “good ol’ days”, but when you grow up, everything becomes complicated.
3) “Ride”: This is a song that has a reggae undertone which will be one of the many genre switches within Blurryface. The subject matter again touches on fearing death: “Yeah I think about the end just way too much/But it’s fun to fantasize”. It’s crazy how the upbeat tempo of the song can clash with the how dreary the lyrics can be. There is a silver lining however. Joseph sings this in the chorus that within the constant back and forth in this mind, he has to enjoy the ride.
4) “Fairly Local”: I previously wrote about this song and how it fits within the whole concept. Read it here.
5) “Tear In My Heart”: This song is almost one of those old ’50s-style songs combined with the piano and style of drumming. The whole song is an ode to Joseph’s wife, Jenna Black. There’s a context where bleeding does not necessarily mean a bad thing. It’s in the feel good song within a lot of darker material. You almost feel relieved that there is something for Joseph to smile about.
6) “Lane Boy”: This song is essentially a middle finger of all the people who may have listened to previous Twenty One Pilots material and griped about their genre-hopping. “They say ‘stay in your lane, boy’/but we go where we want to.” The song starts with an almost calypso feel and then breaks out into a big, furious rave time change.
7) “The Judge”: When I first listened to this song, just from a base perspective, I felt that it had “Holding On To You” potential. The song is that catchy (especially chorus-wise). Again, up-tempo subject matter with sad lyrical content. I noticed something in particular about song structure with Twenty One Pilots’ material: a lot of things are deliberate. With Joseph singing alone with the ukulele, you get the feeling that as he sings the lyrics, that he feels alone in the fight for his sanity. Also, accentuating the duality in the first verse. Joseph refers to himself in the third person and “Blurryface” within the first lines. “As he cranked out those dismal chords/And his four walls declared himself insane.”
8) “Doubt”: Is that a “trap” breakdown I hear? Joseph is face to face with his doubts and fears where in the chorus, his voice gets glitch-like. I think this is where the lines between himself and Blurryface become…blurred: “Shaking hands with the dark part of my thoughts/you’re all that I’ve got”.
9) “Polarize”: This song addresses the whole Twenty One Pilots fan family. “Help me polarize” is referring to removing the good and bad parts of himself into different halves. Listen to the end of the song where the drums are turned down and the organ is paired up with Joseph’s voice as he says “I wanted to be a better brother, better son”. It’s almost as if he is at a church confessional.
10) “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV”: The song, where it’s half almost country-like with a little bit of punk twist with a ukulele and drum kit. The song is a critique on what’s being sold to us as our dreams or what’s real happiness (take a look at reality TV shows). It’s also a plea from Joseph either to his fellow band member or his fans to support him or the band itself even when it may be that they aren’t on the incline forever.
11) “Message Man”: Another reggae style within the verses, I see this as a internal dialogue between Blurryface and Joseph. This is the start of the thinking that perhaps the dark side of Joseph is needed. It’s an argument inside his head.
12) “Hometown”: This song has an ’80s synth feel to it. Listening to it almost feels like traveling down an endless street. There’s a illusion to the sun here, both an urge to get to the sun and the hometown which could be either Joseph himself or fans that may feel like they don’t have a home: “I won’t let them win, go quietly” speaks to fighting your demons and not going gently. This is sang by a layered voice which could speak to how the TOP fan base gives Joseph strength.
13) “Not Today”: The lines “This one’s a contradiction because of how happy it sounds/But the lyrics are so down” sums up the album perfectly. There are pieces of upbeat music as I referred to coupled with these melancholy themes. Here’s the thing: anxiety is described in the first verse, but if you look at the chorus, it makes it seem like Blurryface is a necessary evil. That part of Joseph is needed to overcome his impending introverted nature. “Heard you say “not today”/Tore the curtains down, windows open, now make a sound.”
14) “Goner”: This one is interesting because it’s an older song. There were ideas for the track starting in 2012, so perhaps the idea of Blurryface started to manifest itself then. It’s kind of like those trilogies where the last movie is released first. Joseph has reached the end of his rope in this piano laced track finally denouncing Blurryface. “I got two faces/blurry’s the one I’m not”. It’s like watching the hero who has survived, but with just surviving, has lost so much.
As a whole, Blurryface is intense and sometimes hard to follow with the many changes that are within it. I have to admit, I had to catch my breath with how heavy it could be at times and that could be unrelenting on the conventional listener. It’s not as lighthearted as Vessel, nor should it be compared. It’s an honest assessment that tears the barrier down between the band and their fans even more. One of the bravest things a person can do is show who they truly are, and Twenty One Pilots accomplished just that.