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Manic Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

As they were in the throes of completing their third studio album in 2019, Halsey told Rolling Stone the record would contain "hip-hop, rock, country, f***ing everything because it's so manic. It's soooooo manic." It was so manic, Halsey decided Manic was the right title for this high-profile album, the first they've released since 2017's Hopeless Fountain Kingdom helped turn them into a regular presence at the top of the charts. As it turns out, Manic is indeed an appropriate name for an album so filled with twists and turns it feels like a double-LP crammed into the course of a 47-minute record. Such a description is slightly misleading, though, suggesting that the album contains a series of distinct shifts in mood when it is very much a record of its moment, thrumming along to the tasteful shape-shifting hybrids that populate playlists of all genres. Listen closely, certain stylistic aspects assert themselves -- a fingerpicked guitar line rolls along here, there's a reggae bounce there -- and their choice of guest stars is telling. Alanis Morissette -- who is by some measures a clear precursor to Halsey -- vies with rapper Dominic Fike and Suga of K-pop sensations BTS for the splashiest cameo, with each of their appearances labeled as an "interlude." The lack of concrete song titles winds up emphasizing the presence of artists who cross genres, a clear sign of how Manic's seemingly scattershot appearance disguises that Halsey designed the album to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, streamlining all these sounds so they slide onto every conceivable playlist. It's a shrewd ploy that winds up not seeming crass thanks to Halsey's affectless emo bloodletting -- she never resists an opportunity to hit their target squarely on the nose, such as the "I'm so glad I never ever had a baby with you" refrain on "You Should Be Sad" -- and the clever way Manic is sequenced. The artiest, wobbliest songs start the record, followed by their saddest and starkest ballads, so it takes a while before it settles into its comfortable groove of adolescent angst doubling as AAA crossover pop. Such distinctions would be lost on the playlists individual tracks may later call home, but assembled in this fashion as a proper album, Manic showcases Halsey at their nerviest and at their best.

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