Photo courtesy of Capitol Records
Photo courtesy of Capitol Records
By Julia Li 08/31/21 10:22 p.m.
Reviews: ★★★★ ½
Best track: Whispers
The quintessential popstar, Halsey, has released her fourth album titled “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power”. Halsey’s stage name is a rearrangement of the letters from her birth name, Ashley Frangipane. The 26-year-old popstar uses the she / they pronouns and has since grown in popularity since their 2015 “Badlands” era, their debut album which amassed over a billion streams. Six years later, Halsey returns with updated sound and more depth than in her previous work.
“If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” is Halsey’s first real step in a direction that departs from her past melodies as she uses a dissonant, more gritty sound by bringing in Trent Reznor and Atticus. Ross from Nine Inch Nails. . The duo’s influence in production resonates through the album loud and clear, infusing each track with heavy, thrilling rhythms. Filled with heavy ’90s bass rhythms juxtaposed against Halsey’s honeyed vocals, the album takes on a new form.
Opening the album with “The Tradition,” Halsey sets the tone for the album, calling for themes of female empowerment and empowerment. With smooth piano accompaniment, Halsey’s silvery voice resonates clearly, showcasing the singer’s vocal prowess. The simple mix of piano and vocals creates a synergistic and menacing atmosphere throughout the song. She intensifies the combination of her soft voice with louder and louder piano chords in the chorus as she sings: “Take what you want, take what you can / Take what you want, don’t care. As the words border on a cry for help.
In “Bells in Santa Fe,” Halsey turns up the tension with thick bass rhythms and sings, “Jesus needed a three-day weekend / To sort through all his bullshit, understand the betrayal,” invoking a religious theme familiar. Throughout the song, Halsey repeatedly sings, “This is all temporary.” The song feels like a musical incarnation of a dreaded adrenaline rush, culminating towards the end where gritty, heavy beat dominates their vocals. In “I’m Not a Woman, I’m a God,” Halsey relies on a savvy synth-pop rhythm to accompany her low register before they start to sing, creating cacophonous textures that seep like the moan of a siren.
But amid the chaotic melodies of each song, Halsey masterfully incorporates traditionally “taboo” subjects. In “Darling”, Halsey sings about taking psychiatric drugs – “I tried a drug I bought instead / It works a bit but not much is left.” With muted tones and “Whispers” offers a look at unspoken insecurities, saying “Sabotage the things you love most / Cover up so you can feed the lie that you are made up of”. Halsey does not hesitate to tackle these topics head on and sings about self-sabotage and the problems deriving from a lack of love during the childhood years, saying, “Why do you need love so much?” ? / I bet it’s because of her daddy. In the harsh palette landscape of the album’s synchro-pop songs, “Whispers” allows extremely intimate insecurities and trauma to surface. Halsey packs these heavy topics between stanzas, balancing the delicate line of concealment of these issues while de-stigmatizing them by singing about them without lamenting at length about them.
The album, chained through a framework of dissonant harmonies, features a more mature sound of Halsey’s earlier work and highlights a host of controversial topics.