The story of Tones And I has been spread wide and far since she broke out in early 2019. A busker first and foremost, noting they’re at their happiest when playing in the street, Tones And I was on a meteoric trajectory ever since her first single landed all across Australian airwaves. It’s not often, and seemingly very unlikely that an artist’s first or second song will become the biggest song in the world. Sure, there’s always those outliers (Olivia Rodrigo did it earlier this year), but realistically, if you manage to go number 1 in over 30 countries worldwide, chances are you’re onto something pretty handy. For Tones And I, what “Dance Monkey” has managed to do since 2019 has more than set the foundations for the success her debut album Welcome to the Madhouse is surely going to achieve.
Tones And I has copped her fair share of grief from the edgy-cool guys in every comments section over the past two years. I mean, you’re entitled to your opinion, but when the artist literally has the biggest song on earth, surely they’re doing something right? In saying that, Tones And I’s relatively quick rise to the top was always going to leave her open to the public trying to knock her down a notch or two. It’s unfortunately part and parcel with being successful in Australia and getting struck down by the tall poppy syndrome. Despite the mixed reaction from the broader Australian public in the past, there’s every chance Welcome to the Madhouse will be a bonafide success for Tones And I once it’s released.
Notably missing all of the big singles released over the past two years, Welcome to the Madhouse is, for the most part, a chance for Tones And I to start again, earn new fans and set a new standard for listeners to expect from her moving forward. The exclusion of those big singles does however leave Welcome to the Madhouse a little thin on full-blown hits in waiting. The most likely of songs to become a hit, if it hasn’t already, is the single “Fly Away”. A feel-good dose of escapism pop, “Fly Away” is three minutes of pure pop; it’s that simple.
“Sad Songs”, a song about missing and longing for someone whom you could have been the greatest with, is simple in its delivery, with minimal presets and basic drum pads, matched with a basic piano progression. If I had to pick a song to be the next big single from Tones And I, it would be “Sad Songs”. A not-so-subtle takedown of her haters, “Westside Lobby” has a little bit of a dance hall beat slightly reminiscent of early Major Lazer. The song states pretty openly that she doesn’t have time for or cares about the opinion of those people who are so upset about her success. And honestly, power to her for not caring.
The empowering piano-led and slow-building “Just a Mess” is seemingly the counterbalance to “Sad Songs”. Having found someone to progress in life with, Tones And I is open with her feelings towards the antagonist, as she confesses that the other person is the only person that feels like home.
It’s pretty obvious that the better songs on the album are those that don’t rely too much on being overproduced, and instead focus on the vocals of Tones And I. Songs like “Dark Waters”, “Fall Apart” and “Cloudy Day” (with its church gospel-esque delivery) are the moments on Welcome to the Madhouse that keep the album together and provide a height of success it may have struggled to reach having excluded the previous big singles from Tones And I’s back catalogue.
Yes, there are songs on the album that don’t hit as well as others, like closer “Bars (RIP T)”, “Child’s Play” and “Not Going Home”, but all in all, Welcome to the Madhouse is an album Tones And I should be able to look fondly upon moving forward. The album won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it doesn’t have to be. If anything it will continue to add to the story of Tones And I, a busker who managed to hit gold early on and make it work.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Welcome to the Madhouse is out now.