Review: On his new album, Post Malone sincerely, relentlessly, almost heroically hates being famous
Post Malone heard your little turns-out-fame-sucks album, and he was not impressed.
Oh, he sympathized, of course — nodded his prodigiously tattooed head in sorry recognition as you complained about creepy fans showing up outside your house and about fake friends and about how empty you feel after blowing somebody else’s annual salary on a watch.
But having witnessed A-list peers like Billie Eilish, Drake and Lorde lament the unexpected hardship of celebrity, Malone seems to have concluded that none were being honest about the role they played in their own misery.
Behold “Twelve Carat Toothache,” perhaps the most self-loathing album by any conflicted pop idol since Kurt Cobain, whose biggest hit Malone nods to right at the beginning: “You’re the superstar / Entertain us,” he sings in opener “Reputation,” a bleary piano ballad that goes on to enumerate the many ways he’s failed to live up to his venerated position.
“I was born to f— up,” he declares at the track’s climax, his voice a kind of trembling sheep’s bleat, “I was born / What a shame.”
[Warning: The videos in this post include profanity.]
Malone’s fourth studio LP — and his follow-up to the most-consumed album of 2019, “Hollywood’s Bleeding” — “Twelve Carat Toothache” presents a discomfiting portrait of the 26-year-old singer and rapper whose smoothie-like blend of hip-hop, rock, country and synth-pop have made him a titan of the streaming era. (Consider that among Malone’s between-album outings were a collaboration with Young Thug and ASAP Rocky, a livestreamed Nirvana tribute and an extremely faithful cover of “Only Wanna Be with You” by Hootie & the Blowfish.)
His confessions aren’t especially novel: He drinks too much; he lets his big mouth get him into fights; he cheats on his lovers and induces his friends’ lovers to cheat on them with him. But the desperation with which he details his inability to healthily navigate being a famous person — the amazing lack of vanity in his language — sets him apart from pop’s other rich-and-sad types.
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In “Euthanasia” he inadvertently takes a sip from his ash can, then admits it didn’t bother him too much. “Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol,” in which he emergency-dials his dentist after getting punched by someone wearing a “big chrome ring,” addresses booze like it’s a person: “You’re the reason why I got my ass kicked / But you’re the only way to drown my sadness.”
In “Cooped Up” he not only pukes in a woman’s pricey Birkin bag but tells of an early-morning visit from the cops that led him to flush something down the toilet. I don’t mean he suggests that’s what he did; I mean he actually uses the word “toilet.” In a pop song. One meant to be played on the radio.
Given the cheerful-stoner vibe he deploys in the rare interviews he grants, you’re tempted in moments like the toilet lyric to wonder whether Malone is inching toward a knowing self-parody. But then you get to a song like “Waiting for a Miracle,” which layers his voice, so bathed in reverb that he sounds like he’s staring down into an abyss, over sparse, funereal keyboard tones.
“Oh my God / Just take the firearm from me,” he pleads, “Holy f— / I understand that I’m too weak.” The effect is chilling.
Musically, “Twelve Carat Toothache” mashes together crunchy rock guitars, oozing synths and throbbing machine beats as he and his longtime producer Louis Bell have been doing for years; Malone’s melodies are maybe a bit less sticky than on “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” though hooks still abound, as do snappy guest spots from Roddy Ricch, Gunna and the Weeknd.
The album’s heavy gloom lifts a couple of times, most notably in “I Like You (A Happier Song),” where he and Doja Cat trade flirtations amid a beachy summer-vibes arrangement. “I could be your Chaka / Where your Rufus at?” Doja asks — a very cute reference sure to be lost on both stars’ Gen Z followings.
There’s also “Wasting Angels,” a tuneful sing-rap duet between Malone and one of his foremost inheritors, the Kid Laroi. Here the keyboards have a buoyant and optimistic quality; the chords are in a major key. Malone seems to be dispensing hard-won advice, casting his memory back to when he was “sane before the fame” to prepare 18-year-old Laroi for what’s to come.
And yet: “I don’t wanna know the truth,” Laroi raps in response. He showed up on the wrong album.
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