Review Summary: shakespeare floats down from the heavens for a pumpkin spice latte
I have a sour taste in my mouth after travelling to the hopeless fountain kingdom
. I shall concede, firstly, that I have long since passed my elitist ‘I hate pop’ phase. I didn’t hate Halsey’s first album – Gasoline
was a banger, and its pinballing sitar lead made for a veritable acid-trip of a song, so I forgave the contrived edginess that cloaked the track like a moth-bitten quilt.
Speaking of contrived edginess, this record begins with a melodramatic reading of Romeo and Juliet’s
opening lines. I don’t think I can be as forgiving this time around.
Not that Halsey cares. She’s obviously not afraid of confrontation, she’s headstrong and her snarky attitude is a necessary facet of both her image and her music. Both of these things, though, need to be counterbalanced by an actual, observable sense of self-awareness. Of which – I’ve spent a couple of hours with this record, and the hope that writing a piece on this album will help me find some is slowly dwindling.
I want to like this, honest; it’s just that it feels like a checklist for contemporary pop. It’s Halsey leering over a group of workers at an assembly line and ticking boxes as she moves down the order. There’s the lamenting piano ballad (Sorry)
, the cavorting anthem of self-pity and destruction (Alone)
and the utterly inexplicable Migos feature (Lie)
. The record tries so hard to paint a picture both genuine and empathetic to the struggle of your average Tumblr-poetry devotee that it becomes this insincere clusterfuck of an album.
To parse the album title: ‘hopeless’ – as it stands in the context of the record – is melodrama as mirrored by conceit, the kind of hopelessness easy to overcome but even easier to complain about. Halsey’s grievances about her ennui are neither substantial enough to wring out an emotional response or congruent with anthemic choruses to warrant a singalong, so when the record turns away from this manufactured nadir, Halsey’s vocals are surprisingly impassioned (Heaven in Hiding)
. Her voice shows a noticeable improvement in these moments, standing out when everything else refuses to.
And it’s so frustrating when, in Bad at Love
, she (almost in the same breath, mind you) proclaims two things: that she is “trying” to feel and reciprocate something genuine, only to come back around again, exhorting the notion that another person must be the one to “fix” her. Then, I suppose ‘fountain kingdom’ is a metaphor, evincing the act of throwing an empire’s worth of pennies into fountains, wishing for things to look up instead of actually being proactive.
Or, alternatively, this could be a remarkably heartfelt and cathartic piece of work. This is a post-breakup record, and so I’ve no doubt that the emotions that inform these lyrics are from the heart, and I applaud that. The lyrics don’t even reach the heart, though, they barely even break the skin (“I know that it’s fire flame / your mouth make a hurricane”.
Nice, Quavo). In a way, I also applaud the ambition – the record seems mapped along a series of story beats, and as cliché and callow as they may be, they are emblematic of some vague attempt to be creative. Still, it’s packaged as a jigsaw with all but a few pieces missing, long-winded because it’s all wind; an odyssey with two D’s.
Good on Halsey. Good on her for deconstructing her assuredly shattered heart for an impressionable target audience, and good on her for scrubbing her palms of the underground blogosphere completely. Personally, I wish she'd kept her left-of-center charm, because I have a sour taste in my mouth after travelling to the hopeless fountain kingdom
. I’m not sure why, though, I can’t remember much of what I heard and I only just left.