Music Reviews
If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

Halsey If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

(UMG Recordings) Rating - 7/10

Since their 2015 debut LP Badlands, Halsey has merged high concepts with pop aesthetics. On their fourth album, the singer-songwriter goes one step further by examining their recent pregnancy and childbirth through the dichotomy of the Madonna and the Whore. The lead-up to the album release was shrouded in mystery, with Halsey offering subtle signs of their new direction by teasing a collaboration with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his trusty sidekick Atticus Ross in conjunction with a nationwide IMAX film release.

Halsey delivers on the promise of having Reznor and Ross involved in a musical sense, as If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power is imbued with a palpable sense of drama in how its menacing arrangements move effortlessly around their needs, desires, and insecurities. Even the album cover adds to its powerful iconography, with an exposed Halsey posing as a regal pregnant queen inspired by a 15th-century French painting. They is candid about their relationship with their body and reclaiming it in the process, a response to how they feels they has shared a piece of themself with the rest of us—an all-too-common story of a pop star whose art is inexorably linked with their image.

Halsey expresses the many ways they is at odds with themself while experiencing the joys of being a mother, whether they is candid about the day they found out they was pregnant (1121) or sings a heartfelt lullaby to their baby (Ya'burnee). But any significant event can also follow a troubling past, and as tracks like Easier than Lying and Whispers attest, they can't avoid thinking they is unworthy as a lover and as a partner. And even when their shows some bluster, like on I am not a woman, I'm a god, they cries their words as if they is bent on convincing themself of it.

Now, the idea of Reznor and Ross working on a Halsey project may initially sound like an instant misfire. And, to an extent, their idiosyncrasies sometimes feel misplaced when paired against their twitchy, jubilant anthems. Right from the album's outset, they both announce their contributions to the project with a sorrowful piano chord on The Tradition—which sounds eerily close to the NIN The Fragile cut The Frail. But, for the most part, they both make sure not to overstep their boundaries and let Halsey experiment. The producers mostly add in atmospherics akin to their film scores regardless of the style they chooses—whether they aims for '90s inspired jungle (Girl is a Gun), shimmering, Smashing Pumpkins-like midtempo (honey), or, well, NIN themselves (The Lighthouse).

Setting aside their tendency to hopscotch genres, Halsey's ability to create tension, coupled with their contradictions, makes for an album that's constantly intriguing and sincere. Compared to this summer's pop offerings—think of the similarly themed efforts by Billie Eilish and Lorde, both of which deal with the trappings of fame with serenity and blissful detachment, respectively—If I Can't Get Love, I Want Power is provocative, and even ugly, in its most vulnerable moments. Self-indulgent, sure, but its emotional chaos feels earned.