I completely missed the breakout single “Dance Monkey” by Australian singer-songwriter Tones And I, and the only reason why I’m going out of my way to review her debut is because a) there seems to be a real industry push for her and b) there also seems to be a lot of strong opinions about her. After giving “Welcome to the Madhouse” (as well as “Dance Monkey”) a listen, I honestly can’t think of any reason why people would fine anything about this album compelling.
While the singing isn’t the worst thing about this album, it is definitely a constant issue that holds back every song from even having a chance of being good. Toni Watson, aka Tones And I, seems to have drawn inspiration from the famous indie girl “whalecum tu maiii keetchen” vine for how she wants her vocals, and if you think her voice is annoying for one three minute song you’ll lose your mind after hearing her for a forty five minute album, especially when she’s trying to be sentimental or when she’s trying to do a vocal run. Maybe her voice would work for the side character of a Disney musical, but it being the core of a whole album leads to every song having no chance of being listenable. For someone named Tones And I, she seems to have no fucking tone.
What annoyed me most on this album, however, was the songwriting and production. Trying to copy every bad trend of mainstream pop music in the early 2010’s would have been insufferable in 2015, but doing so in 2021 is also deeply confusing. And I absolutely hate how so much of her writing is about her being an outsider and weird - see the album title - when in reality Toni makes normal, typical pop songs about normal, typical things. It feels so forced, as if the music is embodying “you don’t have to be craAAAzy to work here, but it helps”. If you want to be edgy, BE EDGY, don’t make music that I would hear at a failing mall in Pennsylvania.
So not only is singer-songwriter Tones And I completely lacking in tone, she’s also not a good singer or songwriter. I saw someone call her the female AJR, and while I don’t think her music is nearly as bad as theirs it’s not like they don’t have anything in common, the comparison is valid. This isn’t the worst album of the year by a long shot - I’ve reviewed plenty worse than this - but there are very few moments that I could enjoy on “Welcome to the Madhouse”.