You know that house that you pass all the time and think “I wonder what it looks like inside?”. For all you know it could be gorgeous; full of lush furniture and stunning architecture, or it could be run down; empty and cold. Listening to Halsey’s first two albums is very much like that. Sure, it’s interesting and full of promise but you can never be quite sure if it will ever deliver on that promise. With Manic, we finally step beyond the threshold of the house of Halsey, and god is it gorgeous. While her first two efforts, Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, Halsey feigned to be an artist with something deep to say, hiding behind the walls of pleasingly constructed, but poorly executed concepts. The result is two nicely packaged, but painfully vapid LPs full of egregiously contrived lyrics and vague metaphor. On Manic, Halsey is no longer pretending to have something to say – because she actually does.
Manic marks a milestone for an artist who has spent much of their career talking about making great music but never really doing it, with Halsey finally putting her money where her mouth is. It’s dark and twisted and deeply personal, yet widely relatable. Behind the walls of her house, Halsey’s interior is sumptuous, and endearingly messy. She flicks between softly singing over a piano to near screaming over a country-inspired screeching guitar riff. The album’s scope is vast and detailed, each moment so wonderfully deliberate. Gone are the restrictions of her prior album’s self-indulgent concepts, replaced by swelling emotion that colours far outside the lines. The album deals, largely, with the age-old theme of heartbreak, but as so many have done before her, Halsey’s take is so unique yet universal that the heartbreak feels almost ground-breaking. The complexity of emotion that Halsey portrays across the album’s track-list is very Swiftian in nature (think 2012’s Red), employing Swift’s “pop is personal” ideals.
Manic lives up to its title, bouncing from genre to genre going from huge middle finger anthems to a deeply self-reflective piano ballad. Its excruciating, almost surgical in its post-mortem of a relationship’s ruins, examining what is no longer there, what remains, and how this came to be. Like Swift’s Red, Halsey uses different genres and whiplash inducing sonic contrast to portray every moment in her journey – the raw anger, the forlorn longing, the sparkling hope, and the eventual peace.
The album holds no punches, pulling a complete 180 from the mind-boggling vagueness of her prior releases, revisiting each facet of a relationship’s collapse and its aftershocks with such acuteness, its both heart-breaking and exciting at the same moment. Heart-breaking because it’s a portrait of a woman broken. Exciting because it’s an artist finally coming into themselves and delivering on their promise. Before Manic, I would have said it would be hard to make an album worse than Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. In a post-Manic world, I can only imagine how hard it would be to make an album better than it.