Halsey, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom | Album Review
Alternative pop artist Halsey returns with a conceptual sophomore LP, ‘Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.’ Although it’s enjoyable, it’s all over the place.
In 2015, Halsey seemed to arrive out of thin air. Even so, her debut album Badlands debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard 200. It would go on to spawn a memorable hit single with “New Americana,” featuring one of the catchiest choruses of the year. Now that she’s properly ‘come up,’ Halsey returns with her highly-anticipated sophomore album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is conceptual, incorporating the artist’s own love issues as well as referencing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, among numerous other influences.
“The Prologue” channels Romeo and Juliet – literally. The intro sets the tone for Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, in all it conceptual glory. After reciting portions of the Shakespearean, Halsey eventually sings near the end, drenched in effects.
“100 Letters” follows, giving Hopeless Fountain Kingdom its first full-length selection. Incredibly rhythmic, “100 Letters” sounds more pop than say alternative. Thematically, it has pop sensibilities through and through, but also incorporates the concept.
“How can Midas put his hands on me again? / He said one day I’d realize why I don’t have any friends.”
The best characteristic of “100 Letters” is Halsey’s feistiness:
“But I don’t let him touch me anymore / I said, ‘I’m not something to butter up and taste when you’re bored / I have spent too many nights on dirty bathroom floors / To find some peace and quiet right behind a wooden door.’”
“Eyes Closed” opens mysteriously, possessing a darker quality. Halsey delivers vocals drenched in reverb on the first verse. The vibe of the vocals, like the production, is similarly enigmatic. Essentially, she sounds hazy, with the lyrics matching the haze with a lack in depth. The vocals are clearer on the second verse. The chorus serves as the best moment of the record. “Eyes Closed” fits better in the context of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom compared to its tenure as a single prior to the album’s release.
Standout “Alone” samples popular soul gem “Nothing Can Stop Me” (Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.). Vocally, Halsey’s tone sounds particularly beautiful here. Clearly, she’s opting for a more soulful, R&B oriented sound, matching the backdrop. Interestingly, Halsey references how she’s changed over the years.
“She said she told you she knows me, but the face isn’t right / She asked if I recognized her and I told her I might.”
The lover that wants her will be surprised and perhaps disappointed by how she’s changed:
“I know you’re dying to meet me / But I can just tell you this / Baby, as soon as you meet me / You’ll wish that you never did.”
“Now or Never”
On “Now or Never,” Halsey is firmly planted in pop. The modus operandi is love versus non-love. She keeps it real, yet simple. From her perspective, her lover is “hot n cold.” “Now or Never” isn’t particularly innovative in its subject matter, production, vocal performance or otherwise, but is ultimately sound. In other words, it doesn’t blow anyone away, but it’s enjoyable.
“Sorry” gives Halsey an absolutely stunning ballad. Arguably, this particular song comes off as the most sincere and authentic of her career. She offers an apology for her unbelief in herself as well as her inadequacies in the course of a relationship:
“So, I’m sorry to my unknown lover / Sorry that I can’t believe / That anybody ever really / Starts to fall in love with me / Sorry to my unknown lover / Sorry I could be so blind / Didn’t mean to leave you / All of the things that we had behind.”
She later urges her unknown lover, “Someone will love you.”
Brief, but interesting
Interlude “Good Mourning” continues to play into the concept of the album. Halsey incorporates some great lines, namely “Don’t trust the moon, she’s always changing.” “Lie” follows, continuing to showcase the ambitious nature of the album. Given the guest appearance by Quavo, the record embraces a hip-hop sensibility. Even so, Halsey manages to make that sensibility work to suit her unique personality and style. “Walls Could Talk” sounds like a throwback to 90s teen-pop, in all its bubblegum, urban-infused glory. Arguably, the most unfortunate thing about the record is its brevity.
On the powerful “Bad at Love,” Halsey is open about being bad at love. On the first verse, she references her “boy back home in Michigan.” Ultimately, she messes it up and “Now he’s gone and he’s calling [her] a bitch again.” On the second verse, it’s a “girl with California eyes.” Unfortunately, she “Never got a chance to make her mine / Because she fell in love with little thin white lines.” There’s not much more to add – “Bad at Love” is pretty self-explanatory.
“Strangers,” featuring Lauren Jauregui (Fifth Harmony), is groovy, possessing a danceable quality. The content is more interesting than the production, however. Early on, “Strangers” establishes itself as an LGBTQ love song. For some, it’s likely to raise eyebrows given its perspective. It shouldn’t be a total surprise – Halsey is bisexual. Conceptually, it keeps things fresh, and socially it delivers a more progressive statement.
On both standard and deluxe editions of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, “Devil in Me” and “Hopeless,” featuring Cashmere Cat, conclude the effort. The adverse effects of love still affect Halsey on the slick “Devil in Me,” where she doesn’t “Want to wake it up / The devil in me.” She comes to the realization she’s “gotta wake up.” As for “Hopeless,” she definitely captures hopelessness on the dramatic chorus, in which her vocals are drenched in effects. It’s a unique sound, but also polarizing – not for everybody.
Ultimately, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is an interesting album. It is imperfect, yet has plenty of compelling moments. Perhaps the listener doesn’t leave this effort characterizing Halsey as an elite vocalist per se, but at the same time, she’s an intriguing personality with a respectable artistic restlessness. All in all, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is captivating, if all over the place.
Gems: “100 Letters,” “Alone,” “Now or Never,” “Sorry” & “Strangers”