Review Summary: If they're laughing, fuck 'em all
To say that Ashley "Halsey" Fragipane's road to stardom has gotten off to something of a... well, rocky (for lack of a better word) start seems almost redundant at this point. 2015's Badlands
saw her delcaring that she's the "New Americana", and "god damn right, you should be scared of me" among other statements, without really having the caljones to prove to us exactly why. 2 years later, and she somehow managed to dig herself deeper into the hole she got herself in with the clumsily titled Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
, an album that almost could be the textbook definition of a "sophomore slump" had its predecessor actually been, ya know, good
. Despite carving something of a niche, and becoming somewhat well-known due to collaborations with Yungblud and BTS, any enthusiasm for anything she does from there on seems to be met with the enthusiam of a wet warthog's backside.
Which is a shame, because her third album, Manic
, is actually not half bad.
Make no mistake. Manic
sees Halsey making a lot of the same mistakes she made in 2017 and 2015. The album is all over the fucking place and can't seem to keep its mind on one singular idea. I suppose that's probably an inkling of self-awareness from her, as the title is titled Manic
, and Fragipane has been open with her struggles with bipolar disorder in the past. But ironically, this album seems to be more unhinged than Hopeless
, only this time without feeling the need to commit to a single, unifying narrative- and in committing to being more all over the place, has allowed her to bring some of her crazier ideas to light, which makes the resulting music easier to respect and admire. The best example of this is probably "Forever (...is a Long Time)", which somehow manages to squeeze piano balladry, ambience and electronica in almost 3 minutes, making for one of the most compelling tracks on the album. Following suit is "Dominic's Interlude" and "I HATE EVERYBODY", two twin songs that, despite sharing the same musical backing and chord progression, seem like polar opposites of each other. This is also followed with "3am", an Alanis Morissette-style rocker that shows Fragipane letting off steam over a pretty damn catchy beat, and it's clear at this point that she's not yet done showing you what she can really do.
And yet despite not being bound by a single unifying narrative, and being more ADHD-riddled than ever, Manic
ironically still sounds a lot more cohesive than the two albums that came before. Much of the album takes on a more calm and collected tone, and even catchier tunes like "3am" and "You Should Be Sad" only manage to compliment this. Manic
presents a more focused and confident Halsey, and, surprise, surprise, more self aware too. Not to say that it's not full of stupid fucking mistakes- "Finally//Beautiful Stranger" sounds too close to Lady Gaga's "You and I" to have as much objectivity as it's clearly going for, second track "Clementine" is completely marred by its incredibly cringe-worthy "I don't need anyone" spoken word bits that are way too on the nose to take objectively, and "Killing Boys" is somehow WORSE than "Don't Play", doubling down on the try-hard that marred the latter and sees Halsey relapsing back into momentary bad judgementm and "Suga's Interlude" is extremely ill-advided, with Suga's rapping blending as well with Halsey's vocals as peanut butter and cheese. There's more, but the album does seem to find a way to relapse from these bad moments- the aforementioned "Clementine" with "Nightmare", a catchy, pulsing banger of a tune that has a solid groove and some of Halsey's most soaring vocal work.
They say the third time is the charm, and while it's a bit early to tell with Manic
at the moment, Halsey does seem to have made a sterner attempt to give us something new here. If you hate Halsey, this album probably isn't going to change your mind, but if you consider yourself open-minded, there's bound to be a few surprises here. In penultimate track "Still Learning", Halsey laments that "I'm still learning, to love myself"- one could interpret that as Halsey gaining more self-confidence to write more agreeable music- or maybe even writing music for herself for once, instead of pandering with groaners such as "Bad at Love", or even "Without Me" (which is on this very album)- whatever it means, that's completely irrelevant, because the man point here is that Manic
is an undeniable step forward for someone who's spent 5 years seemingly taking absolutely no steps at all.