Sound — 6
Whether you like it or not (and there are plenty of people that don't), Matty Mullins is the American metalcore sweetheart. Breaking into the scene as the frontman of Memphis May Fire and lending his voice to like-minded metalcore acts like For Today, Sleeping With Sirens, Woe, Is Me, and Hands Like Houses, Mullins became a household name in the metalcore scene fairly quickly; and with a trademark voice, charm, and a squeaky-clean record as a good ol' Southern Christian (except for that tiff he had where he allegedly slut-shamed some girls at Warped Tour in 2013), Mullins has captured hundreds of thousands of hearts to further establish his ubiquity. With 2014 already being a big year for Memphis May Fire - having released their fourth album, "Unconditional," which hit #4 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Billboard Alternative Album charts - Mullins has now released his debut self-titled solo album.
The "Unconditional" track "Speechless" is a good point of reference/foreshadow for what Mullins' solo album sounds like: Mullins' voice is front-and-center, backed primarily by synthetic sound elements. Producer Cameron Mizell was the album's beatsmith, and though his résumé reveals him to be affiliated with numerous metalcore albums that have suffered from overwrought production value, his production expertise comes off better when working with Mullins on a contemporary-pop-oriented album. Sometimes they go full-on electronica, like in the dubstep-tinged "Right Here, Right Now," "Speak to Me" and "By My Side"; other times they blend contemporary rock elements with the electronica elements, like in "See You in Everything," "My Dear," "Back to Square One," "99% Soul," "Normal Like You" and "Glory"; and though it isn't the focus of the album and sort of comes off like a mandatory feature, the rock elements take control with in "My Dear," "More of You," and things reach their boiling point in "Come Alive," where Mullins treads the line on screaming vocals at the bridge, and closes out with a tame guitar solo.
While the organic instrument components aren't awe-inspiring, the album does succeed in making Mullins' voice the center of attention, and when he doesn't have to switch into screaming and gets to focus exclusively on singing, he can sing pretty well. The synth melodies also manage to stay fresh throughout - from the morse-code-esque beeps in "Speak to Me" and the arpeggiated loops in "Back to Square One," to the peculiar opening synth lead in "By My Side" and the humming analog bass in "Glory." Unfortunately, not every element throughout stays fresh: drum beats end up sounding very similar (e.g. "See You in Everything" and "My Dear," or "More of You" and "Back to Square One"), and the recurring usage of string pads and spastic synthetic hi-hat rhythms conjure a homogeneity that, while not wholly ruining, hurts the album as a whole.
Lyrics — 7
With his solo album, Mullins can be (and is) as self-centered as he wants with his lyrics, and with his subject matter being in his perspective telling his stories and beliefs, he also comes off like he's singing directly to the listener; exactly the complex that one would expect from a pop record. In contrast to the more forceful nature of Memphis May Fire's lyrics, especially the dark and heavy themes of self-harm and suicide found in "Unconditional," Mullins shows a sunnier disposition throughout his solo album. His lyrics mainly focus on his ardent Christianity, shining bright in the spiritually positive "See You in Everything," "Right There, Right Now," "More of You," "Speak to Me" and "99% Soul," though he never ham-handedly name-drops God or Jesus, making these positive songs less blunt on the religion, and letting anybody be able to apply their own meanings of the song; only in the gospel-ish "Glory" does Mullins hit his religious apex with the line "Oh, I hear the angels singing/O, Holy One, Your Kingdom come." And even in "My Dear," where at face value, it seems the song is about his wife, Mullins is in fact talking about his love and commitment to Jesus - though in case his wife did get jealous, Mullins did also write about his love for his wife in "By Your Side." All in all, Mullins could have shown more captivating introspection and soul-bearing (seeing as he's 99% soul), but though the lyrics seem to shoot for the middle, they do hit the target.
Overall Impression — 6
Before joining Memphis May Fire, Mullins' musical life was based in listening to Christian contemporary bands at the behest of his conservative parents, and though it would seem he would never want to look back at that quaint-by-comparison genre while he's immersed in the metalcore scene, his solo album celebrates that part of his musical taste. Whether it's because he wants to hopefully be another Christian contemporary artist that inspires a kid to get into music just like how he was inspired, or because he wants to deliver his Christian message in a more family-friendly style of music, Mullins' solo album shows Mullins wanting to be something else besides a metalcore sweetheart, which is both respectable and risky. Plenty of people that were already sneering at Memphis May Fire for being too poppy will doubly hound Mullins for his contemporary efforts, but Mullins' solo album, while a bit meek, is far from a trainwreck.