With 2014’s infectious “Shut Up and Dance,” Ohio rockers Walk the Moon accomplished something bigger bands like Foo Fighters and Muse never have: a top 10 single on the Hot 100. But where do crossover artists go after reaching the mainstream? On their third major-label LP, the group seems unsure. Colorful yet disjointed, What If Nothing dabbles stylistically but rarely finds a groove.
For eight of the album’s 13 songs, Walk the Moon enlisted producer Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, the 1975) and aimed for U2-style grandeur: The slow-burning “Surrender” recalls The Joshua Tree, while the clattering “All I Want” is Achtung Baby for the Coachella crowd. Yet singer Nicholas Petricca mostly just shares Bono’s penchant for clunky metaphors— “Tiger Teeth” awkwardly compares feline fangs and love. Songs also suffer from an excess of ideas: The interminable “Sound of Awakening” is an Auto-Tune-smothered take on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”
The band has more success with Mike Elizondo (Eminem, 50 Cent), who helmed Nothing’s bolder moments. Elizondo produced Twenty One Pilots’ bombastic hit “Stressed Out” and brings similar bluster to his contributions here. And while the generic “Kamikaze” sounds yanked from Imagine Dragons’ reject pile, other cuts are revelatory. “Headphones” offsets its cringeworthy lyrics — “I can take a beating like a good pair of headphones,” Petricca yelps, describing a mythically durable pair of cans — with a whirlwind instrumental that deftly flips from crunchy power pop to pummeling hard rock. Raucous cuts like that won’t make you shut up and dance, but they will get you to shout and rage. B–
Hear “Headphones” above and listen to What If Nothing in its entirety tomorrow.