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Music Review: Twenty One Pilots’ concept album ‘Clancy’ is an energizing end of an era

The end of an era has come for Twenty One Pilots, and what an ending it is.

The alternative pop-rock duo, made up of vocalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, have long been candid about anxiety and depression, themes often represented in Joseph’s lyrics as he sings, raps and occasionally screams while Dun drums at an incredible pace.

Those topics have existed since the beginning of their career, but reached new creative heights on 2015’s “Blurryface,” when the duo introduced a new concept album series that would carry them to 2018’s “Trench,” 2021’s “Scaled and Icy,” to its ambitious conclusion: 2024’s “Clancy.”

For those of you who haven’t been following the narrative with each release, here’s a summary: In the cement-walled city of Dema on the lush continent of Trench, Nico, an embodiment of insecurity also known as Blurryface, controls the confined citizens with a group of mystical leaders called the Nine Bishops. Joseph is a citizen who gets out, is tracked down, escapes again, joins a rebellion, is recaptured and escapes again.

Leading up to “Clancy,” Joseph gains the same mystical power as the Bishops and prepares to return to Trench to free the other citizens.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on a finale album that wraps up an almost decade-long arc, but “Clancy” more than delivers. Full of vim and vigor and crammed with nostalgic callbacks to past albums, it’s a triumphant end of an era.

It begins with “Overcompensate,” an electrifying jumpstart to the album. “If you can’t see, I am Clancy/Prodigal son, done running, come up with Josh Dun/Wanted dead or alive,” Joseph raps in his familiar syncopated cadence.

The following tracks — “Next Semester” and “Routines in the Night” — detail reliving dark pasts. They have two different vibes — the former a post-punk jam with a ukulele interlude at the end, the latter a laid-back pop-ish song — but both are satisfying listens.

A fear of relapsing to past patterns is prevalent throughout the album, first with the track “Backslide,” in which Joseph sings, “I don’t wanna backslide to where I started from,” and then calls back to it later with “Snap Back,” singing, “It’s a new adaptation/It’s a backslide/I hate the surprise/And now it’s all gone/All of that progress.”

Nonetheless, the story’s hero pushes on, as Joseph calls on listeners to do in the simple “Oldies Station.” In the chorus, each syllable enunciated with uplifting piano notes, he sends a simple message: “When darkness rolls on you, push on through.”

Clancy faces off with Nico in the finale, the album closer “Paladin Strait,” a body of water between him and Dema. It’s unclear if Clancy is victorious, as the last lines are Nico confronting him in a callback to a lyric from the “Blurryface” album: “So few, so proud, so emotional/Hello, Clancy.”

Regardless, this album is a win for the duo. Even less remarkable songs like “Midwest Indigo” and “At the Risk of Feeling Dumb” have a certain shine to them that refreshes the old Twenty One Pilots sound.

The duo has come a long way, and it seems as though it’s only up from here. Just with a new journey.

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AP music reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews

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