In a bold and unexpected move, Halsey seizes their artistic crown on the creative triumph If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power. Teaming with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, they pack a lifetime of emotions into a ticking time bomb of angst buffered by the Nine Inch Nails duo's unmistakable production, which deftly serves Halsey's whims and allows the artist to outshine not only them, but a team of famous faces from the NIN orbit. When the project was first announced, the combination of global-pop-star-plus-industrial-wizards seemed a bit incongruous. However, they've succeeded in bringing out the best in each other, with Reznor and Ross setting the stage for Halsey to finally indulge in her alternative rock side, and Halsey giving the guys an excuse to flex their mainstream pop fancies. If I Can't Have Love... isn't simply "Halsey singing over NIN songs," but rather a true artistic union, where familiar NIN touchstones -- ominous atmospherics, minor-key piano tinkling, techno glitches, and distorted riffs -- support Halsey's visceral explorations of pregnancy, childbirth, life, and death. Along the way, they delve into the sacred and profane, face mortality, and reconcile vulnerability and empowerment. No strangers to the darker side of the human experience, Reznor and Ross match the self-loathing, regret, and pain coursing through Halsey's soul with production that stirs tension, frustration, and rage. From the opening piano waltz "The Tradition" to the sparse guitar thrumming of the morbid ode to her daughter "Ya'aburnee" (an Arabic phrase meaning "You bury me," as in "I'll die first so I don't have to live without you"), it's clear that this is a purposefully un-pop version of Halsey. Delivering on the promise of the rock-leaning 2019 single "Nightmare" and the explosive collaboration with Bring Me the Horizon from the Birds of Prey soundtrack, "Experiment on Me," Halsey launches headfirst into pop-punk (the bouncy "Honey"), industrial (the thrillingly cacophonous "Easier Than Lying"), and distorted sludge (the gothic horror showcase "The Lighthouse," an engrossing tale featuring whispered vocals from Reznor). Additional standouts include "Girl Is a Gun," which features neon synths and bubble-pop beats courtesy of Meat Beat Manifesto's Jack Dangers, and "Bells in Santa Fe," a gorgeous showcase of Halsey's poetic lyricism, commanding vocals, and the studio sorcery of Reznor, Ross, and the Bug's Kevin Martin. The album's big moment lands toward the end with the enthralling showstopper "I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God," a throbbing culmination of the core trio's power as a sonic unit. Throughout, Halsey maintains full control of this cinematic concept album, reducing all-stars such as Lindsey Buckingham (on the "Landslide"-esque acoustic break "Darling"), Dave Grohl ("Honey"), Pino Palladino and Kerriem Riggins (on the rhythmic "Lilith"), and Dave Sitek (on the '90s alt rock affair "You Asked for This") to mere studio hands. With Reznor and Ross supporting such a weighty artistic vision, Halsey takes a huge leap forward with this course-changing opus, a revelation that finally presents their most authentic representation of self.
© Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo