When Halsey confesses, “Man, I’m a f—ing liar,” at the close of her new album “Manic,” on track “929,” it comes as a revelation that, perhaps ironically, “Manic” is the most truthful work of Halsey’s career.
After two concept albums — “Badlands” and “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” — there’s something profound about an album finally created by and for Ashley Frangipane. Starting “Manic” with a song named after herself and embedding intimate touches throughout, it’s clear that Halsey has delivered on this idea, providing a heartfelt and personal window into her own life.
To find Halsey at her best, look for when she’s at her most vulnerable. In “Manic,” that would be “More,” a devastating ode to Halsey’s desire to have children. Despite three miscarriages and a long list of barriers in her way, she has continued to strive for motherhood. “More” conveys this tragic concept beautifully, with the lyrics “Wooden floors and little feet / a flower bud in concrete” reverberating throughout the entire album. When Halsey declares “I’m so glad I never ever had a baby with you” on her alt-country single “You should be sad,” the blow is felt all the more acutely, and when she utters “I've stared at the sky in Milwaukee / and hoped that my father would finally call me” on “929,” it dawns on listeners that maybe her desire to be a mom grew out of the neglect she experienced as a child.
Beyond her ability to create a fascinating narrative, Halsey knows how to design a downright fantastic track sequence. All of her transitions are consistently respectable, it’s the five-track stretch from “Forever … (is a long time)” to “Without Me” that fully shows off Halsey’s dexterity in crafting an entertaining sequence of songs. Each track seamlessly flows into the next, anchoring “Manic” by developing a compelling core for the entire album. To connect the songs, Halsey uses a variety of methods, including an earnest voicemail by John Mayer at the end of “3am,” congratulating her for the chart-topping “Without Me.”
At the heart of this five-track progression is the one-minute-long “Dominic’s Interlude.” Despite being such a short song, it effectively ties together the sequence by connecting lyrically to the preceding “Forever … (is a long time)” and sonically to the subsequent “I HATE EVERYBODY.” Additionally, Dominic Fike’s vocals add some spice to the section, preventing each song from running together.
The other featured artists on “Manic” also join in for interludes. Alongside Dominic Fike, Halsey managed to assemble an irresistible list of collaborators, including SUGA from BTS and Alanis Morissette. Despite each of these two interludes clocking in at upward of two minutes, they both still effectively segment “Manic.” Halsey and Alanis’s shouts of “Your p—y is a wonderland” help pick up the pace of “Manic” while simultaneously paying tribute to Halsey’s sexual empowerment and bisexuality. “SUGA’s Interlude” reverses that effect, slowing the tempo back down with some gentle Korean bars.
Wedged between these two tracks is “killing boys,” which opens with none other than a sample from a deleted scene from the 2009 horror movie “Jennifer’s Body.” ““You’re killing people.’ ‘No, I’m killing boys’,” it begins, before eventually moving into an impassioned progression of kicking down doors, keying Ferraris and “Kill Bill” allusions. It’s not the first time we’ve seen an angry Halsey. “You should be sad” and “Without Me” each represent the emotion in their own way, but “killing boys” is definitely the only track where it seems like Halsey is actually having fun.
Halsey, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 17, set out to create an album modeled after the mania she regularly experiences. The title, “Manic,” reflects this goal for the album, and Halsey admirably finds success in encapsulating the feeling in each song. On “clementine,” a song taking inspiration from the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” she asserts, “I'm constantly, constantly havin' a breakthrough, or a breakdown or a blackout.”
That sentiment is reflected elsewhere on “Manic,” especially on the misleadingly-named “I HATE EVERYBODY,” when she bluntly sings, “So I just keep sayin' I hate everybody / But maybe I, maybe I don't.” But perhaps nowhere is Halsey as strong in portraying mania as in the single “Graveyard.” With a simple gasp for air, Halsey captures the desperation she faces on a daily basis. That struggle perfectly describes “Manic,” an album entirely her own in every way.
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