Halsey is back! From her brilliant debut ‘BADLANDS’ to her stable follow-up ‘hopeless fountain kingdom’, the electro singer-songwriter has shown the world that she’s not here to fuck around.
Hopes were high for her third studio album, after experiencing a crazy amount of success so early in her career. With my ears considerably intrigued, I took a delve into the world of Halsey’s ‘Manic’…
In short, ‘Manic’ is a genre-bending, feature-heavy introspective look at the singer behind the musical persona. On this record, Halsey warps genre to make it fit her sound and her own story – the narrative of her own life and her deepest, darkest thoughts.. There’s the country-infused ‘you should be sad’, the RnB based ‘Without Me’, the more electro-pop ‘I HATE EVERYBODY’ (girl, same). On the surface, it sounds as though that makes for one messy-ass album. In reality, it works brilliantly.
The genre-hopping tracks all carry a similar theme. The songs are all light, ethereal – all painted a shade of blue-ish grey; making the album seem like a trip inside Ashley’s mind. The tracks each paint a different side of the singer: self-aware, lonely, cold, vulnerable… And she uses different genres to portray it. It’s genius, really – and a fine line to walk. It could easily tip into a disentangled mess, but Halsey manages to keep it all together, making for a sonically cohesive – and introspective – record.
Opening with ‘Ashley’, the singer makes it clear that she’s opening the closed-door to her mind, inviting us in to listen. It carries the more mellow, acoustic-based vibe of her second album, choosing to ditch the electro-heavy debut. As the album progresses, there’s a marvellous blend of the two. Chill, self-reflective acoustic tracks like ‘clementine’, mixed with loud and brash songs like ‘3am’. Halsey closes up the album with ‘929’, a track about her birth-time and date, featuring her most scathingly raw lyrics yet. The two tracks serve as bookends on the trip inside Halsey’s mind; starting up by opening the door to her troubled thoughts, and ending by accepting, engulfing and appreciating all of her flaws. The track-list is flawless, and I wouldn’t move a track out of place.
The only complaint I do have, however, is that ‘Nightmare’ doesn’t show its face on ‘Manic’. It would fit! There’s the guitar-based ‘3am’, showing a little bit more angst than some of the mellow tracks, and ‘Nightmare’ would’ve served as the yin to its yang. Besides, the lyric “I’m tired and angry but somebody should be” is, and forever will be, iconic.
“I spent a long time watering a plant made out of plastic, And I cursed the ground for growing green”
Lyrically, ‘Manic’ is Halsey’s strongest album. It’s scathingly raw. “And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee, and hoped that my father would finally call me. And it’s just these things that I’m thinkin’ for hours, and I’m pickin’ my hair out in clumps in the shower,” she sings on ‘929’, baring her soul for all to see.
Despite its introspection, ‘Manic’ is also relatable to her listeners. “I don’t wanna live in colour through a white/blue screen,” she says on ‘3am’, reflecting the movement against social media – and that drunken text you send to all of your ex-lovers stored in your phone. Mixing introspection with relatability isn’t an easy feat to achieve, but Halsey smashes it.
Her vocals, of course, are brilliant. On “Finally // beautiful stranger” Halsey’s voice is raw, unedited, and really rams home the message of the track, further deepening that sense of vulnerability. Her high-pitched tones were what always drew me to ‘BADLANDS’, but ‘Manic’ offers a different range of the singer’s vocal ability. It carries the weight of the album with it, with Halsey herself narrating her own deepest, darkest desires with an emotional vocal punch to boot.
One of the highlights – at least for me – is “Alanis’ interlude” – mainly because I just was not expecting it. The two voices work together brilliantly – complimenting each other as the stars compliment the moon.
There’s a lot of features here, from Alanis Morissette, to BTS and SUGA to Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Chad Smith on the drums of ‘3am’, to the spoken word intro by Megan Fox on ‘killing boys’. Oddly enough, it still works as Halsey’s most personal entry. Borrowing the personas from film, or the sound from featuring artists paints a picture of Halsey that she is in control of; offering us different shades of her personality.
There are echoes of Lana Del Rey, Marina and even Stevie Nicks scattered throughout ‘Manic’ – but none of it feels borrowed or try-hard. Instead, Halsey takes her influences and twists them in her own, unique way.
‘Manic’ truly is Halsey’s most personal record yet. Sure, a lot of artists say that about their upcoming records, in an attempt to get eager fans hyped. But in the case of ‘Manic’, it’s true. Halsey goes deep, to the point where it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to. You feel like an intruder, getting a glimpse into the singer’s mind. Her fears, her hopes… Everything is laid bare on the table. And it makes ‘Manic’ a truly wonderful album.