Review Summary: When all of your ghosts get too heavy to hold
It’s the gut-wrenching, soul-sinking moments in life that see us reaching out for empathy in the form of music. There’s something about a broken heart that compels us to look for that sort of companionship; as misery loves company, we seek something to mirror our pain rather than to lift us up. Halloween
speaks this language fluently, detailing a bittersweet breakup that channels the warmest memories of Ruston Kelly’s former relationship – a kind of poison, as it becomes, in the post-relational phase. By inviting these intimate moments into the studio, Kelly elevates Halloween
above the likes of a “breakup album” – and while it certainly is exactly that, the album’s devotion to and wholehearted belief in love of the purest form endears itself to the hopeless romantic in us all. When Kelly sings on the penultimate ‘Poison’ that “Even now that I'm a stranger in your eyes, that's not what tears me down / It's how you made my worst of days never seem as grey, it's remembering your mouth and the way it tastes, it's rosemary beach on a sunny day…Yeah that's my poison now” – he’s not just condemning the past and flooding it with regret. He’s acknowledging the sincere connections made, and surmising that it hurts so much because at one time it felt so good. No blame is placed. It’s about Ruston cleansing himself of these memories he holds so dear because it is essential to his survival: “You're my poison now…can I drain every drop of you out?” As an analogy it’s simple, but it’s also incredibly potent. Kelly is at his most convincing when he sings, “For the first time, in such a long time / I can say I'm happy now.” As with much of Halloween
, it’s a moment that should
feel like a burden lifted. Instead, it tears you apart because, like Kelly, you’re forced to confront the fork in the road – where moving on means leaving such a huge piece of yourself behind. Anyone who has been through a painful breakup or divorce can relate, because life runs us through an emotional gauntlet before we can ever truly find ourselves. It’s almost like a skin that we must shed before we can grow into who we’re supposed to be. Halloween
chronicles this unbearable yet entirely necessary pain, all while extending its hand to those are enduring a similar hardship.
was Ruston Kelly’s 2017 debut, and it precedes his well-documented 2020 divorce with country/pop superstar Kacey Musgraves. Curiously, many of the lyrics and themes remain applicable – proof that although no two separations are identical, the emotional anguish is always the same. The album is conceptual and follows a loose timeline, beginning with ‘Black Magic’s hindsight-view of falling in love: “I drank your poison, fell under your spell / Love is hell and nothing more than black magic / You better want what you wish for, it might happen.” From there, it enters a more amicable phase via “Hurricane In My Head (“So backed up, I'm trapped in this Chevy / All I wanna do is get home to you”) all the way up to the bitter tension of a decaying, toxic relationship on ‘Hollywood’ (“Numb me up before I crack…You ain't ready to cut me free, got me in the palm of your hands”). One of the most beautiful and flourishing moments on the album comes by way of ‘Wildflower’, which sees all of Kelly’s hopes and fears about the relationship come to a head, until it’s too much to handle: “All I wanna do is love you like a man / When I'm so tired, everything is slipping from my hands / When all my ghosts get too heavy to hold, wildflower love me brighter than the prettiest rose.” Although the overarching musical aesthetic is akin to the Goo Goo Dolls falling backwards into country music, there’s more than enough character to shield it from any accusations of being too mainstream…and regardless, it’s gorgeous enough that it would be permissible. A handful of sketch-like interludes tie the experience together neatly, rounding out Halloween
as quite a convincing concept album.
All of this leads us back to ‘Poison’, the emotionally fragile fulcrum upon which Halloween
balances. This is the moment when Kelly realizes the relationship is over, and sings about the love he once willingly drank becoming a toxin that he must now drain from his bloodstream. Following Halloween
from its inception to its shattered conclusion is enough to make even those of us in the happiest of relationships break down in sheer empathy. That’s the thing about music – usually it’s here for us
, but on a record as vulnerable and tortured as Halloween
, the roles can easily be reversed. Regardless of perspective, the album’s emotional weight is undeniable, and its tangible pain seems a pattern doomed to repeat itself – for Ruston, for you, for me. We may never escape being haunted by the ghosts of our past – but when they’re too heavy to hold, Halloween
is waiting to lend us a hand.