Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Released: August 27th , 2021
I’ve got to admit that my only knowledge of Halsey was through the song ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers from 2016. She/they provided the sweet chorus to that insanely catchy song. This song about lost love was one of the big hits from that year and when I sang it to myself, I would always mix it up with Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 classic of the same name, that song being about a very toxic relationship.
Never in my wildest, or in anybody else’s dreams, would I ever think that Halsey and Nine Inch Nails would team up to record an album together, but here we are. I, like many others would have dismissed Halsey as another disposable pop artist in a world with more than we can poke sticks at, so the very idea that their new album was to be produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of NIN had me absolutely intrigued. The result is If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, an album that carries with it a fair bit of artistic weight with its heavy collaborations (with Lindsey Buckingham and Dave Grohl adding their talents to a couple of tracks) as well as an accompanying live music expwerience/film which was reviewed here.
Halsey is establishing herself as an artist and this album is their statement, and in a world of disposable pop and everything else, that is an achievement. They have not created an album to be consumed and then discarded when the next big thing comes along. She wants you to listen to this record, to absorb it, to let it sink under your skin. And that’s where Trent and Atticus come in. If I Can’t Have Love… is full of the things that make NIN great for me: the beautiful, yet ominous piano of the brilliant opener, ‘The Tradition‘, the build-up to the noisy distortion of ‘Bells in Sante Fe‘, the rocky climax in ‘Easier than lying‘ and the ecclectic drumming of ‘honey‘ (courtesy of Mr. Grohl who was probably just in the neighbourhood and decided he would drum for whoever was asking that day) to the recurring ambient synths that appear through most of the tracks; it is very clear that Trent and Atticus are all over this record.
However, in no way do they overshadow Halsey. This is her record. They are merely the people to help her bring her vision to the world. It would do both Halsey and NIN a disservice to dismiss her as riding on their coattails, and Trent and Atticus of trying to be pop stars. David Bowie made some of his best work with some amazing collaborators (‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ with Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and Tony Visconti). This is an album that may confound pop music fans looking for the person who sang on that Chainsmokers song, but hopefully it may open them up to something new, something pretty special. And it may introduce them to new artists and new styles of music.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is not a perfect record by any stretch. I feel that the second half of the record is inconsistent, yet those worries may dissipate upon repeated listenings, as with anything associated with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, musical surprises appear every time. This is an album that can be listened to in one complete session, or with individual tracks. IICHLIWP doesn’t need to be perfect, however it would be great if this is the start of something heavier for Halsey.
It is interesting that the man who released a song with the chorus, “I want to fuck you like an animal” has now won two Oscars for soundtrack work, most recently for a Pixar film (Soul) and is now working with one of the more interesting and adventurous pop artists going around. There are some songs on here that I love, and others that don’t do much for me, but on whole, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is one of the most striking releases of 2021.
Don’t expect a NIN album but welcome a very adventurous pop album.
Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power tracklisting
- The Tradition
- Bells in Sante Fe
- Easier than Lying
- Girl is a Gun
- You asked for this
- I am not a woman, I’m a god
- The Lighthouse
Don’t forget to revisit our review of her spectacular one-night-only live music experience here
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