Halsey opens Hopeless Fountain Kingdom by reading a passage from William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, a sign that she's intent on achieving grand things with her second album. The time is right for a great leap forward. Badlands, her 2014 debut, established Halsey as a possible contender for Lorde's brooding throne, but she received her breakthrough singing on the Chainsmokers' smash 2016 single "Closer." Both events inform Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which casts a far wider net than Badlands. Where that album essentially dedicates itself to EDM-inspired pop, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom uses that sound as an anchor that allows Halsey to dip her toe into stark singer/songwriter confessions ("Sorry"), hip-hop ("Lie," featuring a verse by Quavo of Migos), soul ("Alone"), and a healthy dose of pop songs designed for mass exposure. It's a slight shift, but it's notable particularly because it helps differentiate the songs from one another. This doesn't always happen -- the first half of the record tends to bleed together into one pulsating neon smear -- but when the melodies are sharply articulated and the production not so cloistered, the tracks seem distinct, even memorable. "Alone," that foray into smooth soul, is chief among these cuts, rivaled by the soaring "Bad at Love" and "Strangers," where Halsey laments that her lover "doesn't kiss me on the mouth anymore." Same-sex love songs remain a rarity in the pop music of the 2010s, and while that's a sly reveal of how Halsey represents a generational shift, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom as a whole feels quintessentially 2017 in how it jumbles styles and sentiment, streamlining a teeming, contradictory culture into something smooth, glassy and easy to digest.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine