“The whole thing I want to do is just be honest,” Post Malone told Zane Lowe in a recent interview on Apple Music. His fourth album, ‘Twelve Carat Toothache’, presents the most intimate and open look into his life yet, sharing perspective on some of his personal struggles without sacrificing good tunes.
This record is a natural successor to the last time we heard from the tattooed superstar in album form, 2019’s eclectic ‘Hollywood’s Bleeding’. That record spoke about the dark side of LA and the vultures that circle you when you come into good fortune there; now its creator is turning his focus inwards to how fame has affected him internally and other demons he’s faced in his life.
The big theme at the heart of it all is the relationship between the star and booze, most explicitly examined on the dark, poignant ‘Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol’, which features Post’s musical heroes Fleet Foxes. “You’re the reason why I got my ass kicked,” he tells the contents of his glass, “but you’re the only way to drown my sadness.” As strings create a percussive base and a sparse beat adds to the drama, he recalls waking up with teeth missing and nights that have gone awry thanks to intoxication.
“I took a shot, took a shot, took another shot,” he sighs in a line that’s deceptively simple, referring to drinking, punching and being punched. “Fell right out my fucking chair, swinging for his eye.” Later, over the intermittent beeps of ‘Euthanasia’, he revels in a clear-headed moment (“Behold, a sober moment / Too short and far between”), but the drought doesn’t last long: “I should crack one open / To celebrate being clean.”
Taking a different tact, ‘When I’m Alone’ explores a different issue – betraying an ex-partner. “All I wanted was a piece of decent on the side,” he tries to reason. “Then my baby found out / Now I’m living in a hotel, living in a hotel.” A storm of beats and synths nearly strays into drum’n’bass territory, as the 26-year-old shares his regrets and his state of mind. “What your life like? Need a lifeline right now,” he rasps. “99 nights tryna get my mind right now / Life is sour, even when I’m in the limelight now.”
The pitfalls of fame linger throughout the record, like on the piano-led opener ‘Reputation’, in which Post seemingly rails against the expectations and demands of fans and the industry (“Take my own life just to save yours / Drink it all down just to throw it up […] I got a reputation, that I can’t deny / You’re the superstar, entertain us”). It’s a raw portrait of the pressures of being someone who is adored by many, but is struggling to adore themselves. “I was born, what a shame,” he sings at one point, while the song finishes on just his voice echoing alone as he cries: “Let me choke on my cigarettes and heavy debt.”
While there are many moments throughout ‘Twelve Carat Toothache’ that appear to refer to Post’s relationship with himself, it’s not all bleak. The Kid Laroi collab ‘Wasting Angels’ is, the musician explained on Instagram Live recently, “a celebration of life and a human spirit to be able to fight no matter what”. Although he admits within it “I just need a lil something to get me through the day”, it closes in a chorus of choir-like backing vocals as he shares something that feels like a personal revelation on the way to feeling happier: “I should listen to you now if I never have.” ‘I Like You (A Happier Song)’, which features a golden verse from Doja Cat, throws internal struggles out the window and turns its attention to a crush.
The latter song, though, also contains Post’s biggest misstep on this album – upholding the casual misogyny of modern music. “Now that I’m famous, I got hoes all around me,” he boasts. “But I need a good girl, I need someone to ground me.” The problem doesn’t lie just in calling women “hoes” but also in reinforcing the pitting of a woman who is characterised as sexually promiscuous against one who is “good”, the star falling into the trap of the Madonna-whore dichotomy. Of course, Post isn’t the only musician using such language around women in their songs right now, but that’s no excuse to join the crowd and doesn’t protect him from criticism either.
Musically, things are much less disappointing. The record occupies a space somewhere between hip-hop and alt-pop, and focuses on minimal sounds for the most part. ‘Lemon Tree’ returns to Fleet Foxes’ sound as Post pulls out an acoustic guitar for a folky composition, while ‘Waiting For A Miracle’ centres around heavy piano stabs that reflect the weighty feel of its lyrics. ‘Insane’, meanwhile, is one of the most interesting tracks on the album sonically, taking things in an edgier, more ominous direction with revving bass and addictive rhythms underpinning its creator’s lust-filled, desperation-tinged growls.
The occasional outdated attitude and some light filler material here and there aside, ‘Twelve Carat Toothache’ is another step up for Post Malone. It’s a record that feels distinctively, inimitably him and succeeds in his goal of sharing his truth. Couple that with his recent comments that he’s also found happiness and it seems like everything is back on the up for Post Malone.
Label: Mercury Records/Republic Records
Release date: June 3, 2022