Written Before Listen
Halsey is a New Jersey musician who has been in the realm of contemporary music in the past 5 years or so. From what I’ve heard from them, I never was impressed. This time around though, their new album is produced by the legendary Industrial Rock band, Nine Inch Nails. Seeing this combination is nothing less than unique, and I’m here for it. Without further ado, let’s see how this album turns out.
I never saw Halsey as this risk-taking sensation in the pop realm, but here I am proven wrong. At the end of the day, I will say that this is an alternative rock album with a lot of pop and electronic servings. Tracks like “The Tradition” and “1121” show Halsey doing artsy singer/songwriter music but tracks like “Easier Than Lying” are taking more of a punk approach than a pop one. With a track like “Lilith”, we see Halsey going back to their usual sound but the track after is what it would sound like if The Prodigy went full-on Drum and Bass. With Nine Inch Nails on production, we are also bound to have some tracks that are darker and more aggressive. I think “The Lighthouse” is easily the strongest example of this with its distorted bass, the harsh drum break, and sloppy mix. I think to an extent the tracks “Whispers”, “I am not a woman I’m a god” also provide a NIN aesthetic too. I saw all sides of Halsey after listening to this project, surely some aren’t done to the best of their abilities, but I do appreciate Halsey as an artist more after listening to this.
With the provocative album art, the long title, the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross production, and the knowing events of their life, It’s not the most surprising news to find out that this album was conceptual. A lot like the recent Killers album, this album isn’t a narrative concept but more of a thematic concept. Halsey discusses topics of fame, mental health, self-worship and doubt, love, anxiety, and much more. Looking at some of the contexts of Halsey’s life, all of these topics are pretty public. Due to their pregnancy, pronoun changes, public love troubles, and most importantly massive fame, there was going to be a time where she channels these feelings in their music. It was going to happen sooner or later, but I’m glad we got it.
Now it’s time for the aspect of the album I was anticipating, the production. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are heavy hitters in producing music, film scores, and compositions. This is also one of the first times if not the very first time these two are producing for another artist. Surely, that aspect of the production does have its pros and cons. There are two types of tracks on this album. There are songs where NIN takes full control and there are songs where NIN and Halsey don’t see eye to eye. The song “Lilith” is a great example of NIN overtaking. The beat is super groovy and the Palladino bassline is as well, but I don’t remember anything about Halsey’s contribution, Similar thing to “Girl Is A Gun” too. In my opinion, this track could’ve worked better as an instrumental. The busy breakbeats and industrial effects are way too busy for Halseyanyone to sing over. Luckily there are multiple layers of NIN. There are different breeds of the “NIN” sound, and there are examples of their sounds connecting. I think the best style that connects the two is the more abrasive style. Both “Easier Than Lying” and “You Asked For This” are two of my favorite tracks on the album for a reason. I also think the more emotional side of NIN can fit with Halsey’s aesthetic too. The two opening tracks are good examples. “The Tradition” shows Halsey backed up with apocalyptic pianos and minimal synthesizers. The follow-up is a stylistic and instrumental shift but the melancholic mood continues. This time, it’s just backed up with a pulsing synthesizer, and electronic arpeggios. As you can see, the chemistry is inconsistent, the strength is inconsistent and the vision is inconsistent, but luckily inconsistency comes with its strong points.
Before listening to this album, I was thinking about how much influence Nine Inch Nails will take on the sound of this album. The answer is that they take a lot. A lot of the other influences that I caught rather take influence from NIN, or influence NIN themselves. It’s to the point where “I’m, not a woman I’m a god” just sounds like a sequel to their seminal hit “Closer” (Not Halsey’s seminal hit, Nine Inch Nails seminal hit). Surely tracks like “Darling”, “Honey” and “You Asked For This” avoid the NIN stereotype, but they do still sound like they were taken from other places. What I’m trying to say here is that Halsey bringing in NIN for the album is more than intentional, it was an inspiration too.
Alongside the aspects, I talked about. I do think Halsey’s vocal performance could’ve been stronger throughout the album. I still think Trent and Atticus carried this album with all of their weight. Although I appreciate the concept and the style that this album has, I still think that there are points where Halsey and NIN don’t see eye to eye.
I might’ve been a little harsh at the tail end of this review, so let me remind you that I still enjoyed this album. It’s easily better than anything I’ve heard from Halsey yet and I think their artistic direction is going on the right path. I will also say that I’m glad that NIN’s sound is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Honestly, there are a lot of albums that came out this year that have taken influence from Trent in some way. Like, if it wasn’t for Nine Inch Nails, I don’t think Billie Eilish would be as unique as she was, I don’t think people like Backxwash and Death Grips would be as famous and I certainly don’t think music would be the same, so I’m glad someone that has the name that Halsey has recognized this.