“Conceptually elaborate and packed with easter eggs that will delight their hardcore fans.” Twenty One Pilots close out their multi-album saga with Clancy

Twenty One Pilots return with their first studio album in three years: some may wonder what all the fuss is about

(Image: © Fueled By Ramen)

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Not many bands commit to a concept for more than an album campaign. Rarely do they spend a decade crafting characters, settings and interconnected narratives. But Twenty One Pilots have always been dedicated to their lore, and the story they began to tell on 2015’s Blurryface now comes to a close on their latest outing, Clancy. Named for the main protagonist of 2018’s Trench, Clancy is conceptually elaborate and packed with easter eggs that will delight their hardcore fans – but the music itself doesn’t always live up to the band’s lofty ambitions.

Twenty One Pilots took the world by storm in the 2010s with their innovative combination of hip-hop, pop and rock paired with stark, vulnerable lyrics that centre on anxiety and depression, heralding a new era of alternative music that earned them a cult following. Such is their status now, that reviews of Clancy were strictly embargoed until the album hit streaming services on May 24, suggesting that their return should be seen as An Event. At the outset of Clancy, they channel their early innovation into two heavy hitters right off the bat. Overcompensate is punchy and chaotic, a multilingual reintroduction to the world of Trench, the fictional setting of our tale. These references will go straight over the heads of outsiders, but fans who have followed the journey will enjoy picking apart the lore.

The true highlight of the album follows with Next Semester, an anthemic rocker that feels like a panic attack in musical form. It depicts both the cruel reality of mental illness as well as the optimistic desire to get better, a theme that has been central in Tyler Joseph’s songwriting. There are hints of My Chemical Romance in the track's heavier moments, before fading into an acoustic conclusion.

Unfortunately, there are only a few more songs on the album aside from this opening pair that leave a lasting impression. Instead, there are songs like Backslide and Snap Back which would have felt at home in an earlier album but which, on the whole, come off as stale and outdated in 2024. Lavish is a cynical view of the music industry, but lyrics such as “Sip a Capri Sun like it’s Dom Perignon” fall flat beside titans like Next Semester.

Later, the powerful message of Oldies Station fails to live up to its potential. Its striking, positive advice to “When darkness rolls on you / Push on through, push on through” gets lost amongst the heavy hitters on Clancy and lacks the sonic punch to give these lyrics the platform they deserve.

Elsewhere, they get more creative with their pop influence on the high-energy Midwest Indigo, destined to be a fan-favourite from Clancy. Navigating exists in the same catchy pop-influenced vein, combining retro synth with heavier drums to inject fresh energy into the second half of the album. At the midpoint of the album,  Vignette’s string intro is a welcome change of pace and showcases one of the best vocal performances of the record. Similarly, the light, acoustic  The Craving (Jenna’s Version) reminds us of Twenty One Pilots’ trademark genre-spanning skills.

Clancy is at times a very strong outing for Twenty One Pilots. However, they falter where they fall back into old habits instead of embracing the album's more innovative moments.  It’s a refreshing step forward following Scaled and Icy that will appeal to diehard fans, but it often fails to deliver on its promise.

Freelance writer, Louder

In addition to contributing to Louder, Vicky writes for The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, New Noise Magazine and more.