Halsey‘s fourth album feels like a defiant artistic statement. It arrives without singles – brave for an artist whose last record, 2020’s ‘Manic’, contained the chart-topping ‘Without Me’ – but with a clearly designated concept. According to the singer born Ashley Frangipane, who became a mother last month, this is an album “about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth”.
Halsey has even made an accompanying R-rated film – also called If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – that uses Game of Thrones-style imagery to explore the “lifelong social labyrinth of sexuality and birth”. At a time when some pop A-listers craft hits for TikTok, it’s a boss you can only pull off if you have a loyal and fully invested fanbase.
Thankfully, the music itself is fierce and fascinating. Produced by Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, ‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power’ has cinematic moments that recall the duo’s gritty film scores, but isn’t simply ‘Halsey does industrial rock’. Frankly, it’s more complex and unexpected than that. There are echoes of Garbage on the sweet and sour grunge-pop bangers ‘You Asked For This’ and ‘Honey’ – the latter featuring Dave Grohl on drums – while ‘Lilith’ finds Halsey self-mythologizing (and self-flagellating) over a ’90s hip-hop beat. “I am disruptive, I’ve been corrupted / And by now, I don’t need a fuckin’ introduction,” they spit with savage awareness.
Given that Halsey has often pinged between genres and collaborated with Alanis Morissette on their last album, none of this is too much of a sonic leap. There are no obvious hits here, but the deceptively sweet-sounding electro bop ‘Girl In A Gun’ would fit comfortably on a playlist next to ‘On A Roll’, Miley Cyrus‘s tongue-in-cheek cover of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Head Like A Hole’, which appeared on Black Mirror.
Throughout, Halsey’s lyrics exploring patriarchal expectations, body autonomy and their own evolving identity are hard-hitting even when they’re kind of arcane. “Picket fences, filе taxes / Who the hell is in your bed? You better kiss goodnight and give some head,” they sing brilliantly on ‘You Asked for This’. More direct moments feel like a shard of light beamed into a cave of Halsey’s swirling thoughts. When they sing “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes,” on the folk-pop ballad ‘Darling’, which features lovely guitar work from Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, it’s surely a heartfelt pledge to their newborn child.
It almost goes without saying that this album is intense as hell and not exactly teeming with light relief. It’s also an intricate and an endlessly compelling artistic statement that only Halsey could have made.
Release date: August 27
Record label: Capitol