After rising up from being the goofy frat-rapper who dropped “White Iverson” to scoring a couple of the most successful songs of all time during his 2019 Hollywood’s Bleeding era, Post Malone has achieved everything he possibly could in terms of commercial success and has given a couple interviews in recent years decrying the idea of stardom and striving for future hits, wanting instead to simply follow his heart in an artistic sense. With his fourth album, Twelve Carat Toothache, Malone dives further than ever before into the dark topics he has flirted with before in his music. While previously set to a bubblier backdrop, his latest project is notably sparser, grimmer and legitimately concerning at times as Malone covers topics like his alcoholism, depression, and pandemic anxiety. While his natural hitmaking ability is hard to shake off and still crops up with a couple unbelievably catchy choruses from time to time, Malone’s latest project feels haphazardly assembled. It almost as if it was simply done to fulfill a quota set by a label so he can retreat back to his secluded Utah lifestyle, and contains some unquestionable lapses in effort when it comes to the lyricism, structure and mixing.
The project opens with one of its most immediately eye-opening tracks when it comes to just how blunt Malone is about his issues in “Reputation,” as he morbidly sings about the regrets that he has about the level of superstardom that he’s reached over a 4-minute somber piano instrumental. It feels like a ranted freestyle more than anything, Malone speeding up and slowing down incongruously with the instrumental and uncomfortably straining his vocals as he drops the first of many outright references to suicidal ideation – and based on how candid he is in all other aspects of the project, to the point of it being detrimental to engaging musical structure, we have reason to believe him. Malone has never been the greatest singer in the world, and on this track and “Lemon Tree” in the early goings the extensive compression and vocal effects that give him the tendency to sound like a bleating goat come out more than ever, distracting from the campfire-side acoustics. The latter sees Malone hit some weird country inflections and lyrics that could have come from a meme mocking the weird superfans of the Joker movie as he spits out some unpalatable bitterness about the bad hand life has dealt him. Providing a moment of respite in between these two is single “Cooped Up,” which is as classic of an inescapable trap-pop hook as Malone has ever delivered as he returns to wild behaviour as restrictions lift – although a phoned-in verse from Roddy Ricch dampens things slightly.
Kicking off one of the album’s better runs, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” essentially sounds like Malone replicating the “Circles” formula with a mix that sounds distractingly watery and spaced-out without much of a discernible reason, but the formula kept the original in our rotations for years for a good reason. Malone sings about unrequited love, which hurts him all the more as he thought the interest was brought about naturally and not for the fame, continuing to fall in line with the rest of the album’s themes. Linked by parenthesis dubbing them “A Happier Song” and “A Sadder Song,” both stand out as some of the album’s highlights. Coming together with fellow musical goofball Doja Cat on “I Like You,” it represents another nice moment of joy in the middle of the darkness as he earnestly surrenders to butterflies at the beginning of a new relationship over a SZA-style modern R&B backdrop. It’s no wonder that people gravitated to the “Happier” side after hearing the project – we all know the interviews where Malone seems so refreshingly normal and down to earth, and the sound is what he excels at. The “sadder” song, “I Cannot Be,” rises above as well due to it sounding much more like his earlier “sad” work. Juxtaposing the sadness with a cartoonish and bouncy synth beat, it gives off the image that the party Malone is at is not a party at all. Addressing fame like a relationship that’s holding him back and turning him to self-destructive behaviours, it’s the only instance where Malone communicates his message in a song that warrants relistens.
The album begins to rapidly fall apart in its second half as Malone’s effort level takes a nosedive. “Insane” sees his go-to producer Louis Bell provide him with an engaging backdrop of rattling bass, but Malone’s gratingly repetitive cadence and bizarre lyrics that truly must have just been placeholders make it seem like he wasn’t in the right mindset to commit to recording a more upbeat banger at the time he was recording and finalizing it. It feels like he’s unenthusiastically going through the motions of what “Post Malone” is expected to be. “Wasting Angels,” which comes accompanied by the cheeriest melody on the project, is even worse in that regard. Sounding like NAV’s robotic delivery at times, the chorus becomes borderline unlistenable when the instrumental of muted synths doesn’t give it much support. The Kid LAROI sounds almost indistinguishable from Malone himself on his feature, and the track culminates in an extended section of vocal layering which is mixed to become overwhelming. Around the same area, Malone’s lyrics become even darker and I come away from it wishing he would seek help instead of wanting to consume it as entertainment. “Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol” sees him telling the story behind the album’s title as he loses a bar fight while stretching the limits of his vocals, while “Euthanasia” finds him contemplating ending it all with a chillingly calming, peaceful and heavenly sound.
Like most of the album itself, the final run of tracks is a mixed bag. “When I’m Alone” is the first left turn in sound that really works as intended, as Louis Bell adds an almost drum n’ bass energy when it comes to the uptempo live percussion in the back – though, similar to “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” the track feels like it has the bones of a solid Malone track but a couple of odd decisions holding it back. In this case, there’s not much of a strong chorus. Bookending the excellent single that is “One Right Now” as Malone offers his take on the current 80s trend are “Waiting For A Miracle,” where Malone gets into disturbing detail about a near-suicide, and a reprise of “Euthanasia,” leaving things on a worrisome note.
As his star fades – in part due to his own doing – and he seems to have lost a bit of his artistic direction during turbulent times in his life, Malone’s future seems uncertain, and it seems likely that we might not get another project from him for a while. He’s always had a surprising talent for lower-key tunes, if that’s the direction he wants to go – we can only hope he takes some time to heal.
Favourite Tracks: I Like You (A Happier Song), One Right Now, Cooped Up
Least Favourite Track: Wasting Angels