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‘Backslide’ Single Review: Surprisingly Forward-Thinking

3.5 Stars

"Backslide" was released on April 25.
"Backslide" was released on April 25. By Courtesy of Twenty One Pilots / Fueled By Ramen
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

Musical artists are often plagued with a dilemma — should one keep with a consistent style so as not to alienate fans, or try out new sounds to keep their work fresh? The alternative duo Twenty One Pilots’ newest single, “Backslide,” plants itself firmly in a middle ground between these strategies.

On April 25, Twenty One Pilots dropped the single “Backslide,” the third track from their upcoming album, “Clancy.” The release was accompanied by a music video directed by the duo’s drummer, Josh Dun. “Backslide” is lyrically solid and has a distinctive emo-pop sound, and although it comes off as somewhat one-note, the song also paints a strong vision for the future of Twenty One Pilots.

“Backslide” feels pop-forward and catchy. The verses feature lead singer Tyler Joseph’s measured singing mixed with snatches of rap, and the chorus, layered with multiple pitches of Joseph’s voice, has a screechy, desperate quality. Joseph’s yell-singing reminds the listener that Twenty One Pilots retains an emo aspect. Still, the song’s pop-like chorus keeps the single fresh when considered within the band’s overall discography.

Lyrically, the song acknowledges the band’s layered relationship with its past music. In the second verse, Joseph sings, “Bad place on a hundred dollar bass, / Kind of wishing that I never did ‘Saturday,’” referencing the band’s foray into pop on their “Scaled and Icy” record. The album received lukewarm critical reception and some fan backlash due to its jump from the duo’s familiar sound. The lyrics of “Backslide” touch upon themes of regret, providing an in-song explanation for the new sound of both this single and the other released tracks of “Clancy.” Still, the song isn’t entirely devoid of past inspiration — the emotional lyrics and infectious chorus harken back to the band’s hit album “Blurryface.”

These sad lyrics keep Twenty One Pilots connected to their past even when exploring new sounds. The lyrics, as implied by the title, mention backsliding — a process that could be interpreted as either returning to bad habits or falling away from progress. The band’s recurring theme of struggling with depressive thoughts and anxiety is clear in the lines, “’Cause I feel the pull, water’s over my head / Strength enough for onе more time.” Joseph’s passionate style of quasi-screamo singing hammers home the true meaning of these words, instantly investing the listener in the song’s greater storyline.

While the single’s lyrics and overall concept are well thought out, the weakest part of “Backslide” is its simplistic approach to its beat. Joseph’s vocals dominate the feel of the song and leave little room for anything else. Backing up his words is only a simple, electric-sounding beat that doesn’t lend much personality to the overall sound. The one-track drums are complemented by an eerie, almost funky bassline, which drowns out any distinctive effect that it may have had. One of Twenty One Pilots’ strongest factors is the interplay between the emotional lyricism from Joseph and Josh Dun’s energetic drums. While the lack of emphasis on the backing instrumentation proves that the band wants us to focus on the song’s lyrics, it also makes the song feel like it's missing a certain degree of complexity.

“Backslide” sits in the midst of Twenty One Pilots’ past and future. It leans into the band’s iconic emo-style lyrics while trying out a new pop/pop-hop sound. The song is not overly complex, but it proves that the duo will not let themselves sit on a shelf to collect dust and that Twenty One Pilots are an ever-evolving band.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at

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