Halsey – Badlands

halsey

We seem to live in the comedown from Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga. A few years ago, a lot of women got on TV with weird outfits and bragged about how much sex they have and how much they drink. The parties didn’t have to look fun. Mostly, it looked like a bunch of cool people trying hard to impress you. What’s important is that you’ll find them profound, strong, going against the norm. As we know, nothing is more rebellious than drinking alcohol and having sex.

Only your mom is actually against partying, and even that population of anti-partying moms is dwindling. Pretty soon a new type of female Pop rose, one that was still about lots of sex and partying but acknowledged the fact that made your Mom despise those parties. Where there are people, there are feelings and getting hurt. People sometimes get hurt before, during or after the party. Sex is fine and all, but it’s not as easy doing vocal acrobatics and calling it a song.

Halsey is a latecomer to this scene, and it shows. Lana Del Rey may have kicked it off, but singers who came later didn’t stick to the formula. For all of the ‘alt girl’ posing on Tumblr, these singers did show there was room for personal expression in Pop music. Compared to what came before, these singers gave a voice to all the kinds of experiences you go through when young.

Halsey may be considered ‘generic’ in that movement, but it’s a movement that’s defined by not sticking only to bragging about sex. In fact, her personality is actually more solid than it first seems. If she seems like a stereotype of the dyed hair, feminist teenager that’s on Tumblr posting better content than you it’s only because she throws herself fully at it.

True enough, we need it. I’m not one to complain about how there aren’t enough Black people in a certain field, or how there are too many males in a different one (As we know, all males are exactly the same). There is something different about these lyrics of youth though, something that’s far from the rage and angst of the male-dominated rock genre.

Instead of tales of hatred, rage, and heartbreak we get tales of confused and confusing sexuality, of drugs that are fun and wrecking at the same. Overall, life is a huge set of contradictions. Now that’s emotional depth for you. In contrast to bands where sex was always a bad thing, where romance lead directly to agony here it’s unclear and blurry. “Strange Love” is about a relationship so messy we don’t even bother to define it. On “Hurricane” she manages to overcome the guy all the girls can’t overcome. All that confidence is gone on “Drive”, a contemplative, atmospheric song that’s soaked in the amorphous and somewhat profound thoughts of an over-intelligent youth.

I know it’s fun to assume young people are idiots – that’s why we got such a moronic educational system. They experience things, though. The best music of youth captures this spark and more. Halsey is at once a young girl who lets herself get carried away by her sexuality, is totally in control of it, utterly confused by it and has the wisdom of a sage – sometimes in the same song. “Hurricane” isn’t the best song here, but it’s the best example of when it all collides at once.

Can these lyrics be anything less than ridiculous? Actually, they’re quite excellent. They aren’t a bunch of vague lines about sex and pain strung together, but there’s a coherent idea connecting them each. The distinct subject matter is what helps the songs stand out. True, “New Americana” is awful, but that’s because it’s the only song where Halsey pretends to be important. Name-dropping Nirvana and Biggie especially sounds stupid. Isn’t she younger than me? Did she feel comfortable listening to “One More Chance”? Statement-making was far more convincing in “Castle”, a slow-grinding song where Halsey sounds like an overconfident youth with all the good that it implies.

She’s actually at her best when she throws herself at an idea. The more contemplative songs, where she sounds too grown for her age can blur together – “Hurricane” and “Roman Holiday” are cute, but “Gasoline” contains lyrics that in any other context would stupid. “Are you deranged like me?” is as attention-wanting as it gets, but it nails the feeling of being misunderstood with others on the internet. “Colors” is the big highlight about loving a guy who’s on the road to self-destruction. The lyrics may be sappy, but being young is about being sappy. If you got the bonus tracks then “Control” is another highlight. I have no idea how it didn’t end up on the album.

People talked about how Halsey is constructed, artificial and is ‘not real’. Is Lady Gaga real? Sure, she flaunted how her imagery was fake but we were supposed to take seriously the idea she’s not real – or whatever postmodern hullabaloo went over there. Music is performance, and what matters is how the performance goes. Halsey is dead-on in what she’s trying to achieve. I met the type of girls who are into this music and heard their stories. Halsey’s lyrics match their stories, if not in precise details but in vibe. In the end music is more about capturing a certain essence of feeling or of experience, rather than the exact details. While it’s true Halsey doesn’t have too many quotables – her peers are much better than her, as a whole her lyrics are fantastic. Few songs get what loving a dangerous and self-destructive guy is like “Colors”.

Badlands is overall a fantastic Pop albm with everything you’d want – great hooks, great production and enough personality to make it memorable. That personality can annoy people, especially if you’re too busy with authenticity or getting angry over weirdos on Tumblr. It’s also possible you’re too busy looking for things to make fun of rathe than experiencing the world. Irony culture has yet to produce something as fun as “Colors”.

3.5 sexy boys out of 5

 

New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

newfoundglory_makesmesick
New Found Glory exists currently for about 20 years. I know people who are younger than this band. This is so bizarre. Recently I sat with a friend and we reflected (or lamented, or celebrated) the fact we’re getting older. What makes this all the more bizarre is that New Found Glory works in the genre of youth. Even if you weren’t a teenager in the days of Punk Pop – I was, but was more of a Nu Metal kid – this still sounds like music for teenagers to get loud to. It was catchy, it was loud, it was angry and victorious at the same. For the 30-year-old man, a song like “My Friends Over You” means nothing. For a 16-year-old kid trying to convince himself that he’s not attached to a girl, this song means everything.

In a way, this album is an acknowledgement that these dudes are getting older. Whatever their previous albums sound like, “Party on Apocalypse” is the sound of an out-of-touch adult who remembers being young, yet realizes his youth has been replaced. In style it’s what you expect from a grown-up Punk-Pop band. The riffs are moved to mid-tempo and they discovered you can dance to something other than pounding drums, so you get a slightly funk rhythm. Musically it updates the genre for parties, and many bands went this way. Eventually we find our friends and want to chill with them.

The lyrics are different. Many heard about how the current generation is stupid. Just ask Socrates and how he hated writing. The lyrics are full of discorn, of venom towards the current generation. It doesn’t come from an adult perspective or reminisincing on better days. It’s just as suited for any 16-year-old today who’s confused about how to have fun.

The first verse immediately kicks off with how the ‘living for the weekend’ mentality is stupid. Coming from the band with that nasty tone, they sound like the ones who are actually having fun. All these people who pass out in parking lots and care so much about their image look ridiculous. The band doesn’t get angry over it, but confused and mocking. Later there’s even a slight at Social Justice. It’s the outsider perspective, how things look from the outside. All those people putting pictures on Facebook of them with beer bottles and all this identity politics thing, where people think their race or gender must be their whole meaning. Thankfully the chorus saves it from being just a song about being grumpy about waiting for all the trends to die. In the end it’s a party song about looking at the world from outside, thinkinkg it’s ridiculous and knowing you have more fun.

Two more other songs take this delusional approach – “Call Me Anti-Social” and “Your Jokes Aren’t Funny”. The latter is pretty obvious. Someone’s jokes lost their spark, like when you’re 22-years-old and memes about rape jokes just don’t do it for you and actually look offensive. “Call Me Anti-Social” continues from “Apocalypse” with being even more anti-social, but there’s something charming about it. Like the previous song it’s another response to a world where we’re surrounded by images of people being social (Which is not the same as actually being social). In this world, it’s far easier to feel isolated and alone. Unless you’re sticking your tongue out in Ibiza, you’re no fun. As an anthem of tiredness, it’s fantastic and exactly what I’d expect from a rock band who notices how different the rock landscape is now.

Everything else after that is just a retreat of Sticks & Stones. That’s okay, because New Found Glory have more charm than any band they influenced and overtake them. Anyone else would’ve ruined “Party On Apocalypse”, but it’s their everyman, ordinary people with loud guitars approach that makes it so charming. So when they talk about being used for sex (“The Cheapest Thrill”) or a weird unstoppable love (“Barbed Wire”) it’s cute.

It also lacks vigor. It lacks the authenticity of youth. I’m not saying they are pretending. I’m sure they really care about these songs and the only time a song is close to bad is because the melody is dull, like how uninspired “Blurred Vision” is with repeating a single phrase over and over. Yet what made their original material so powerful was how youthful it sounded, that it wasn’t a professional band knowing their genre but a bunch of dudes who had passion for romance and were really confused over being young. “Barbed Wire” is really cute and the lyrics are adorable, but I wonder what it would’ve been like if they played it 15 years ago. They do sound grown-up, which is excellent for some songs. When talking about broken hearts though, they’re just professionals going through the motions. It’s still good, but this isn’t the heart of Punk-Pop.

“Party On Apocalypse” is a fantastic and should be at the top of end-of-year lists talking about the best songs. It’s everything I want from New Found Glory now that they’re older. Someone should’ve expressed disillusionment and confusion over contemporary times and this nails it. Besides that, it’s just a rehash of old material without the same youthful energy. It’s fun, sure, but besides “Call Me Anti-Social” I can get everything here in better form in previous albums. Get these two tracks though.

I wish they would’ve used a better album title. What could be more generic?

2.5 apocalypses out of 5

Fall Out Boy – Take This to Your Grave

takethis
Anyone remember Teen Rock?

I use this as an umbrella term for the Rock that came out around the late 90’s into the mid-00’s. It was criticized for whining, for being angsty and being derivative. You don’t have to look at two bands from different genres to realize that was bullshit. Inspired by New Found Glory as they are, their demeanor is different. It seems most of the criticism came from people who either were metalheads (In general, not people to talk about music to) or people who didn’t realize hooks were a good thing.

Time does its thing. Now that these bands aren’t in everyone’s face and no one can hate them for having teen fangirls, we can actually listen to the music. There are plenty of surprises, like realizing My Chemical Romance is more of a Glam Rock act and that Linkin Park were pretty experimental. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Fall Out Boy used to be Emo.

Fall Out Boy aren’t Emo. This isn’t an attack on either Emo or the band. The genre is fantastic and the band is responsible for ridiculously catchy songs. Their later output is too happy, too hook-heavy to be called Emo. It lacked the sensitivity, the vulnerability and the sloppy sound that Emo so earnest.

Here, though, they’re gloriously Emo. It’s easy to miss this. They don’t rely on one-liners like Texas Is the Reason or sound like American Football. Stump has yet to gain rockstar confidence, so although he’s got stadium-sized hooks he spends the records looking back at how shitty his youth his.

I’m sure that sounds whiny to most, but these people can go listen to Slayer. What the hell does ‘whiny’ mean, anyway? What band didn’t sing about their troubles? Art is one way of humans to cope with the bad stuff. Heartbreak was a constant theme from the beginning. If you approach an album filled with songs about relationships and think to yourself that it’s whiny, you suck at human psychology.

Now, this subject can lead to a lot of embarassing lyrics. Politics can also lead to embarassing lyrics, though. Just look at Rage Against the Machine. What’s important is how the band approaches these subjects. Do the lyrics explore the subject? Can they put into words feelings you’ve been unable to describe, or are they regurgitating cliches?

Maybe this is what people meant when they said ‘whiny’. Some bands’ lyrics are just a collection of random words about how bad stuff is. The key to a good, emotionally releasing song is being specific. Either that, or just have good one-liners.

Where Nu Metal failed and Emo succeeded was the lyrical department. As much as I love Nu Metal, many bands just sung about how things are bad in general. Fall Out Boy are specific. It’s the great tradition of looking at your youth, looking at all these people (or single person) you hate and finding new ways to say ‘I hate you’.

Take This to Your Grave is a very hateful album. I’m talking about Glassjaw-level of hatred here. Wentz’s lyrics don’t go off about the gender of the assailant, but the hatred overflows the record. Here are some lines:

“Stop burning bridges and drive off of them
So I can forget about you”

“Every friend we ever had in common
I will sever the tie, sever the tie with you
You can thank your lucky stars that everything I wish for will never come true”

“You want apologies
Girl, you might hold your breath
Until your breathing stops forever, forever”

“I want to hate you half as much as I hate myself”

Poetry is about finding new ways to say old feelings. Fall Out Boy never repeats the same words too much. Each line is specific to a situation. Most of the album is either about hating yourself or hating another, but there’s wit in them. The band doesn’t just repeat “I hate you”.

It’s shocking to read these lyrics. The music isn’t pure Emo and their path towards pure Pop is evident. Stump’s voice, the fast playing and the ridiculous catchiness of it makes it sound happy. “Dead on Arrival” and “Where Is Your Boy?” are so gloriously melodic you can imagine teens singing along to them at the end of a party celebrating their summer. The lyrics are so vile though. The former is one of the least hateful songs here, but Stump teasing a girl about how she’ll grow to like him has bitterness in it. The latter condescends towards both the girl and her new guy.

If it sounds like Fall Out Boy are another band who sold out and let go of their aggression, it’s not. This record did have hits and the band’s lives improved incredibly. Of course they wouldn’t be so hateful after selling so many records. Take This is hateful not because the band’s mission statement is to make hateful music – they’re not Slipknot or Korn. The album often plays like a Greatest Hits records with only “Reinventing the Wheel” letting things down. At their heart, they were always one of the best Pop bands.

The album does suffer from a repetitive sound. The band hadn’t discovered varying tempos yet and most of the songs alter slightly, but even the most deviating songs (the incredibly melodic “Saturday”) don’t do much to add new color. All these 12 songs stay firmly in Punk-Pop territory as if no other genre exists. It’s impressive they could mine this narrow genre for 11 great songs, but the effect is tiring when listened to in full.

Fall Out Boy are a brilliant band and were great since their inception. People who hated the whole ‘Teen Rock’ movement won’t enjoy a thing here. The slightly raw sound doesn’t make this any less radio-friendly. That movement contained a lot of great music, riffs and hooks and  is one of its classics.

3.5 postcards from a plane crash out of 5