Halsey aka Ashley Frangipane’s third album ‘Manic’ is a transparent, soul-baring record that flits effortlessly between wide-ranging genres while keeping the core extremely sharp and personally.
Opener ‘Ashley’ – which eludes to her real first name - is a spooky synth-influenced track exploring the shackles and pressures of fame before tapering off with whispered, familiar dialogue: “I’m just a fucked-up girl looking for her own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours,” taken from the mind-bending film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; a move that manages to instantly pique interest.
In another clever move, she follows this up with ‘Clementine’, the name of the lead female character from the above-mentioned movie, played by Kate Winslet as a free-spirited, impulsive, yet slightly disturbed young woman who erases memories of her lover after a fight. This track is a personal favourite for its puzzling ability to sooth, with slow, pleasant instrumentals and vocals. These are offset by vulnerable lyrics rooted in escapism, that elude to breakdowns, black outs and the frustrating pining for everyone to love you...while simultaneously fighting against the urge to push the world away.
There are other moments like this; both on the dreamy ‘Still Learning’ and the gothic ‘I Hate Everybody,’ evoking a similar image - one of desperation for approval, the kind that splashes through the minds of anyone who has experienced any form of fleeting insecurity. However, the messages here don’t translate as well as ‘Clementine’, despite being far more literal lyric-wise.
With vivid lyricism and smooth transition between genres, Halsey uses imaginative imagery of following, obsessing over a lover too deeply on ‘Graveyard’, going on to do the same on pounding revenge track ‘ Killing Boys’, before evoking a country-tinged acoustic sound on tracks such as ‘You Should Be Sad’ and ‘Finally // Beautiful Stranger’.
However, the 16-track offering switches between well put-together pieces to moments that are more patchy. At one end of the scale there is catchy, trap-influenced masterpiece ‘Without Me’ - which reached No 1 in the US going on to spend a year in the charts, for very good reason - and on the other hand are typical pop-tinged offerings like ‘3am’. Despite being good music - particularly the lyrics, that hint low self-esteem when it comes to romantic relationships - the track is forgettable, even ordinary, with somewhat lacklustre delivery and a failure to fully peel back layers that were begging to be delved into. At other points Halsey shines bright but immediately extinguishes the flame she’s ignited - particularly when it comes to her vocal prowess. Take the gloomy ‘Forever...(Is a Long Time)’, when near-shrill vocals dampen what could have been a beautiful instrumental-led piece.
Despite a few blips, Halsey’s lyrical confidence comes on leaps and bounds on this third full-length outing, and her production abilities have grown alongside this - what seems to be lacking is an ability to pull listeners in, with vocal delivery that jarringly stand outs at certain points as much as it disappointingly fades out. While mainly played out from Halsey’s personal and musical perspectives, ‘Manic’ is also peppered with interludes from star guests - Alanis Morrisette, BTS’ Suga and Dominic Fike - who each bring their own individual flair and expertise to Halsey’s melancholic sonics.
Alanis’ interlude is the best of the lot, as the brilliant, thumping track ‘Nightmare’ picks up the mood of the tracklist singlehandedly. Similarly Dominic Fike’s uplifting interlude and Suga’s rap over a slick K-pop soundscape - while not as impressive as Alanis’ outing - make for fitting breaks throughout the introspective tones of Halsey’s husky voice.
As the album draws to a close with the gorgeous ‘929’ - filled with heart breaking vulnerability, as Halsey longs for her father to finally call her; a sentiment that hits close to home, as tearstains of a deeply personal experience blend with Halsey’s artistic point of view. ‘
Manic’ is an imperfect collection of tracks - with high peaks of sheer genius along with the low falls - but it still manages to fill eyes with tears, hearts with love and minds with thoughts as it explores the life and times of a 25-year-old in startling, stark detail.
Words: Malvika Padin
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