Review: Halsey – Manic

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Halsey welcomes the new decade with an album bursting with sounds both familiar and new. With a plethora of features and a solidified lyrical style, ‘Manic’ reminds us that Halsey is a musical force to be reckoned with.

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Halsey welcomes the new decade with an album bursting with sounds both familiar and new. With a plethora of features and a solidified lyrical style, Manic reminds us that Halsey is a musical force to be reckoned with.

Halsey’s legacy stems from her penchant for concepts in her music. Her first two albums (Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom) offer an insight into worlds of Halsey’s imagining, exploding with colour, anger and expression. With her third album, Halsey has chosen to take what very much seems to be a more personal approach to her album construction, evident in both the intro and the outro of the album, the former being her birthname, ‘Ashley’, and the latter being, as she mentions, both the time of day and day itself which she was born with ‘929’. Manic is not only a point-blank departure from her previous concept albums, but it is completely stylistically different, displaying an entirely different and lighter tone. Where Badlands was heavy and political, and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom was punchy and expressive, Manic offers all of the above, but through a much more mature and controlled lens.

With this in mind, Manic is no less of a fantastical creation than her other two records. Tracks such as ‘Clementine’ and ‘Forever…(is a long time)’ have lyrics which allude to fantasy-like scenarios, albeit with a personal and bittersweet nature to it in true Halsey fashion. Halsey also offers, with this album, an insight into films which inspire her song writing, often directly sampling speech from these films in the songs. Her first and self-titled track ‘Ashley’ ends with a quote from the character Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind about her disgust at being a tool for men to use for their emotional self-development (which cleverly precedes the track ‘Clementine’). At completely the other end, ‘killing boys’ opens with a dialogue between two childhood ‘best friends’ Needy and Jennifer from the cult horror flick Jennifer’s Body, wherein the former is trying to convince the latter to stop killing people, to which Jennifer indignantly responds that boys are just “placeholders” who “come and go”. By including such references, Halsey is able to take a personal stance within the narrative of her album through these films, exploring not only her relationships, but also herself.

By making this album less conceptual, without a clear theme running throughout, Halsey is able to incorporate a much wider variety of songs, and decided to go with a much softer sound explored through a variety of different sub-genres. Songs such as ‘SUGA’s interlude’ and ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ are very cloudy and dream-like, whereas ‘Graveyard’ and ‘You should be sad’ are more reminiscent of country music. This album also, like Hopeless Fountain Kingdom has three features, although this time, the features all have their own self-titled interludes. The features are all from three completely different genres and backgrounds, including SUGA of the K-pop sensations BTS, rockstar legend Alanis Morissette and alternative R&B songwriter associated with the likes of Brockhampton; Dominic Fike.

Manic was highly anticipated, and Halsey released over a third of the songs from the album as singles before the January 2020 release. She drip-fed her fans with music videos which range from a time lapse of her painting her album cover on a seven-foot square canvas to Halsey dancing around an abandoned carnival with her frilly-dressed lover (portrayed by Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney) in the middle of the night, and these are just two videos for the same song.

This album offers a poetic style which is very typically Halsey about her trying to navigate herself and those around her, claiming that she is “bursting out” of herself in ‘Ashley’ and that she is “trying to make it right” in ‘Still Learning’. Manic is a perfect example, and perhaps her best yet, of Halsey channeling her emotions into musical poetry which, although personal, offers something poignantly honest. The album has songs about safety, regret, being reckless, and just flat-out hating everybody, sometimes including yourself. In this way, Manic is more of a self-reflection in music form than ever, setting the bar ever higher for the upcoming singer-songwriter’s inevitable status as alt-pop royalty.

Halsey’s Manic is out now via Capitol Records.

 

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