Halsey’s not completely new to me, although until about an hour ago, the entirety of my knowledge of their work was based off that episode of Saturday Night Live they hosted. (I’m basing Halsey’s pronouns off of an interview on Apple Music). While I was watching the episode, they were enough of a natural that I’d just assumed the show had added a new cast member.
Once I found out they were the musical guest and the host, I was left with the impression that they must just be one of those people — the preternaturally charismatic and beautiful people who can just do everything. It’s convenient I just read Circe, because my reaction is kind of like that character’s reaction to the Olympians: all these aspects of perfection but not much for me to relate to. I more or less liked all of Halsey’s music that I heard afterwards, but the songs passed through me like bran.
But their new album, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, is pretty fantastic. It looks like an all-out multimedia assault, with an IMAX movie and everything.
The album is produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which to me is most apparent in a track like “The Tradition,” which sounds to me like a song from a soundtrack that’s a little too somber and pleased with itself for being deep, which is the impression I get from most of their soundtrack and Nine Inch Nails work. I don’t even mean that as dismissive as it sounds; they really do manage to add a sense of weight and power to material that might otherwise feel slight.
It left me with the impression that this was going to be Ghosts I-IV but with a pop singer, but I actually don’t think it overwhelms everything. To me, it provides exactly the hook that pulls me in.
My favorite track is “The Lighthouse”, but “Easier Than Lying” is the point where I was struck that the album was something interesting. On its own, the song seems to me like fairly predictable early 2000s pop/punk; something that I can’t place exactly but I’d swear that I’ve heard it before. But in context with what came before and after, it felt Evanescency: maybe a little too self-serious to be taken entirely seriously, but damn if I don’t have the song stuck in my head, and it won’t go away. (And if you told me “1121” was an Evanescence cover, I’d believe it).
The rest of the album jumps between styles, but I think it manages to feel coherent. Much of it feels familiar to the point of being derivative — going from “Lilith” to “Girl is a Gun” in particular gave me the oddest feeling of deja vu to the soundtrack to The Saint. Not for any direct reference so much as for being a mish-mash of electronic music styles that somehow holds together.