“Hopeless Fountain Kingdom”
BOTTOM LINE New York pop star hides interesting ideas under production murk.
Over two albums, 22-year-old Halsey’s music remains not quite as interesting as her life story.
The New Jersey-born, New York-based singer (real name: Ashley Frangipane) regaled Rolling Stone last year with tales of buying Red Bull with her final $9 so she could stay up all night and avoid rape or kidnapping.
But little of that stark realism comes across on “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” (Astralwerks), her follow-up to 2015’s “Badlands,” which is overproduced (by Halsey, heavy hitters Benny Blanco, Greg Kurstin and others) and full of cluttered musical details, like an unfortunate opening poem about “two households, both alike in dignity.” Underneath the strings, synths, electro-noises, guest vocals from Migos’ Quavo and Rihanna-like no-no-no moans are glimpses of dark, poignant songwriting.
The “100 Letters” narrative is about a woman who won’t let her boyfriend touch her anymore; the boy in the busy ballad “Bad at Love” calls his girlfriend a name because she doesn’t like his friends. Halsey is a strong new character in pop, a hybrid of P!nk and Lorde who still hasn’t found her voice: “I’m fading away,” she croons on “Angel on Fire,” “you know I used to be on fire.” It’s perhaps more accurate to say she hasn’t yet been on fire, at least musically. She’s getting closer.
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