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‘Clancy’ Review: Twenty One Pilots Successfully Cap Off a Decade-Long Narrative

4.5 Stars

Twenty One Pilots released "Clancy" on May 24.
Twenty One Pilots released "Clancy" on May 24. By Courtesy of Twenty One Pilots / Fueled By Ramen
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

For Twenty One Pilots, their story all started with a six-time platinum album, “Blurryface.” In 2015, the Ohio-based duo, consisting of Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph, released “Blurryface” — an album featuring one of their most famous songs, “Stressed Out,” about the insecurities embodied by a murky antagonist.

Joseph wrote this smash-hit, emo-style album from the perspective of a hero physically battling his inner demons. Later albums, such as “Trench” in 2018 and “Scaled and Icy” in 2021, sprung from this storyline, as Joseph began to characterize himself as a hero named Clancy who must fight and escape not just one shadowy enemy, but an entire suffocating city called Dema.

Now, nearly ten years after “Blurryface” was written, the singers have brought this storyline to an end with their newest album, “Clancy.” While the success of this album might depend on knowledge of a pre-existing world built throughout their discography, the record introduces a new sound for the musical duo and a surprisingly catchy, no-skip tracklist. The relentless energy and honest songwriting of “Clancy” mark it as a remarkable step forward for Twenty One Pilots and proves that sometimes concluding a story can be just as beautiful as beginning it.

“Clancy” follows the protagonist’s journey as he disentangles himself from a city that keeps dragging him down. Like this repeating storyline, the tracklist of “Clancy” focuses on cycles, oscillating between euphoric, energy-driven songs and more gloomy, emotional tracks. “Overcompensate,” with lyrics that promise a “welcome back to Trench,” starts the record off with a bang, emphasizing Dun’s pounding drums as the narrator, Clancy, recounts his attempt to conquer his fears.

The album then kicks into “Next Semester,” a song that features a filtered ukulele to mimic the sound of a dance-worthy, garage-punk-esque electric guitar and create an upbeat tone that is then tempered by a mellow, strumming finale. This slower ending then leads into “Backslide,” a track accompanied by a distorted piano and lyrics of a desperate cry for help.

From here, the cycle continues as “Midwest Indigo,” a 2010s alternative rock-style ode to Ohio, launches the tone back into an emotional high. If the cycle sounds like a lot, that’s because it is — throughout the album, unexpected pairings of ukulele, synth, and bass combine in a way that can only be called “alternative,” a testament to Twenty One Pilots’s aversion to genre. Yet, the swinging mood of the album works to the advantage of each song’s thematic focus on cycles of addiction and self-sabotage.

The album is steadfast in its new sound and therefore may disappoint some fans of the duo’s longstanding commitment to certain musical features. The group’s former albums have featured at least one piano-heavy, slower piece, but “Clancy” uses Joseph’s trusty baritone ukulele to drive its more mellow songs, including the memorably melancholic “Oldies Station.” The lyrics don’t disappoint — the song encourages fans to push through bouts of darkness — but it is not the piano-driven dirge that some might expect from the artists. The album also lacks the faster rap portions that characterize some of their other works, such as “Vessel” and “Blurryface.” Although “Overcompensate” starts the album with a bang, the other songs’ raps are on the slower side.

While these deviations from Twenty One Pilots’ traditional style choices may take the duo off of their usual course, they also reinforce the fact that “Clancy” is its own entity. While it narratively relies on the plots of “Trench” and even “Scaled and Icy,” it remains fresh in its structure and sound — an impressive feat of originality and finding room to create something new, considering the fact that the duo has been working together since 2011.

Yet, in doing so, “Clancy” doesn’t leave behind what makes Twenty One Pilots so deeply compelling — their raw lyrics delving into difficult topics like mental health struggles. For example, “Vignette,” an almost Coldplay-esque, kaleidoscopic song, tackles a story of addiction. The song recounts being “Fresh off a binger in the woods, / Flesh covered in bites, / Testing what is real, what is good /Man, it’s been a long night.” The lyrical frankness of this song, amongst the other tracks on “Clancy,” grounds the overarching fight of the protagonist in the more mundane and personal fights that some listeners may undergo on a day-to-day basis.

The ending that the album offers for Clancy’s own battle parallels these constant daily struggles. The final track, “Paladin Strait,” is another uke-heavy song that follows Clancy as he “climb[s] the top of the tower,” searching for the story’s antagonist. Yet, as Joseph sings out the final part of the song’s chorus — “Even though I'm past the point of no return” — he is interrupted by a deep voice intoning, “So few, so proud, so emotional / Hello, Clancy.”

This song, and the entire album, ends abruptly on this ominous note, implying that although the protagonist has attempted to find control, in the end, the cycle continues. While to some this might be a chilling thought, it also reflects the reality of fighting personal anxieties; the battle simply continues on the next day.

Twenty One Pilots have made a career out of their honest songwriting and “Clancy” demonstrates that they haven’t lost their shine for lyricism. The conclusion of their nearly decade-long narrative is fresh, despite being connected to three other albums. All good things must come to an end, and “Clancy” proves that letting go, despite feeling bittersweet, can sometimes be for the best.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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