– by Jack Pogson
Badlands is the highly anticipated debut album from the much-hyped new artist on the block Halsey, who has seen a rapid ascension to stardom following her first EP released last year and a number of high-profile endorsements, including a tour with Imagine Dragons and her lead single from this release premiering at number one on iTunes Music Beats. However despite the hyped build-up to this current release the album often feels formulaic, plagued with predominantly stale sounding production which fails to deliver her musical potential.
As the album progressed, Halsey began to feel less and less like a musical auteur and rather like another cake-mix pop artist. The album assumes a couple of different personas throughout its duration, on one side Halsey is the expressive, pertinent female vocalist which is consistent with the hype, coming through in songs such as the opening track “Castle” which explores themes of the patriarchy and sexism in the music industry. There are considerable portions of the album however which seem to digress into phases of awkward coming of age and pop cliché. “New America” and “Roman Holiday” are particular offenders in this regard. Standing out as uninspired pseudo teen anthems the beat and production sounds, coupled with the banal lyricism, invokes eerily similar sonic melody and production qualities to countless other top 40 artists, in the vein of Taylor Swift and her ilk.
Songs such as these betray Halsey’s talent as a songwriter and unique vocalist, with the vocals often sounding highly compressed and ultimately unemotive, preaching the chorus We are the new Americana, high on legal Marijuana, occasionally name dropping Biggy and Nirvana just to make sure the kids know she’s for real.
Ironically, some of the albums stronger tracks such as “Haunting” and “Young God” are relegated to the lower real-estate of the album. These later closing tracks employ a much more wide open sounding and ambient production style which really compliment her vocals. Not only do these tracks provide a much needed change in pace for the album but they really let the songs stand apart from Halsey’s other contemporary peers, at least to some extent, providing some different and interesting use of acoustic instruments and vocal layering.
Given the strong qualities that were displayed in her debut EP that preceded this release, it ultimately feels that her style and talent has been diluted into an even more radio-friendly, fail safe format. If the scope of the album was purely to sell copies them it could be said that it has been crafted to perfection. As a coherent musical release, however, the frustrating lyrical cliché’s and homogenized production style prevent Halsey from breaking free of the pack as a front runner in her genre.
Photo Credit: Halsey