Halsey had their first taste of global success with the cheesy EDM hit ‘Closer’. Together with the Chainsmokers, they released one of the biggest songs of summer 2016. The catchy but lyrically weak earworm performed well, spending 12 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Despite having her debut album ‘Badlands’ go platinum in the US, the collaboration threatened to define their entire career. That one song overshadowed all of their previous attempts to create honest and at times self-conscious music that held a mirror up to a generation.
When it came to releasing their next album ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’ the attempts at trying to rebuild these ideas could be heard.
They had moderate success with radio-friendly singles such as ‘Bad at Love’ and ‘Now or Never’ but, again, it still didn’t feel like the success the singer desired.
‘Manic’, the singer’s genre-hopping, collaboration loaded, 2020 album became their biggest success. Produced mainly by the singer themselves, the album moved away from the dystopian universes they were so known for and turned the attention back to the artist offering a genuine (and at times hazy) view into their mind.
‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power’ bears no resemblance sonically to any of their other work. It comes with a newfound sense of confidence the singer seemed to lack previously. It’s raging and biting at points, that could largely be put down to Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross producing the record. It jumps from pop-punk to alternative rock and is filled with heavily distorted guitars and raging drums.
The record opens dramatically. The haunting piano in ‘The Tradition’ is an invite into a record full of twists and turns.
It’s gothic and dark, playing with the idea of how fame takes parts of the individual, “Take what you want, take what you can take what you please, don’t give a damn.”
Their vocals are beautiful, tainted with hints of fury and fire. It tells you straight away if you are looking for an album full of pop hits you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is not to say the album lacks a big sing-along chorus, fans can easily scream along to songs such as ‘Easier than Lying’, “I sleep with one eye open and one eye closed ‘Cause I’ll hang myself if you give me a rope.”
Yet despite it being, at its core, a rock record, it has its more tender moments. On the folk-inspired song ‘Darling’, the singer croons: “Foolish men have tried but only you have shown me how to love being alive.”
It’s raw, vulnerable and offers the listener a much-needed breath after all the overwhelming and, at times, near-suffocating anger Halsey has unleashed in the previous tracks.
Moving even further away from the album’s rock influences, the tracks ‘Girl is a Gun’ and ‘Lilith’ are electronic, hyper-pop songs. Do they feel out of place among the other tracks? Admittedly slightly but somehow they manage to slot into the chaos that is this record.
Overall to get the full experience of ‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power’, you need to take everything you know about Halsey and throw it out the window.
This is nothing like their previous work and that’s exactly the reason why you need to listen to it.
Image Credit: Spotify