Here’s a question – how has Post Malone actually reached this point? When considering his place in hip-hop, it’s not one that’s usually met favourably, especially by more traditional fans of the genre who’ve spent most of the time side-eyeing as he’s continued to skyrocket. And yet, that skyrocketing popularity hasn’t eased up pretty much at all, as Post has continued to notch numerous hits over the course of his two albums, on top of festival headline slots and a considerable presence in the modern hip-hop landscape. Then again, it’s not like his popularity is unexplainable – he’s got a knack for real melody and a great sense of smoky production that feels a lot richer than most trap can – but the criticisms have always cast a long shadow, especially the race argument as a white artist co-opting the style of a traditionally black artform, and making just enough changes for it appeal more to a white audience. And that circles back around to his not-entirely-favourable reputation among other hip-hop artists, bringing up the culture vulture accusations that have only been solidified by statements about hip-hop not being for those looking to think about life or to be challenged, and how his insertion into the genre originally felt like a contingency plan for a floundering rock career. All of that is incredibly easy to dislike Post Malone for, but to his credit, his artistic growth hasn’t gone unnoticed, and while he’s still firmly rooted in trap sounds and scenes, he’s now reached a level where he’s developed a sound that’s arguably exclusive to him, and moving out of the immediate backlash zone that was propagated on his debut album Stoney feels like a conscious artistic decision to step into territory defined by Post Malone, rather than the other way around.
And that does alleviate some of the pressure put on Hollywood’s Bleeding. If beerbongs & bentleys was the moment that broke Post into his current superstar status, it also established an artist with a degree of versatility that he’s ridden to move his boundaries outside of the trap sphere, and Hollywood’s Bleeding arrives as an invitation of sorts to play around with the greater musical flexibility he’s picked up along the way. The fact that Ozzy Osbourne makes a guest appearance here is rather telling in that regard, at least on the surface. But there’s also such a thing as overextending, and that’s ultimately where Hollywood’s Bleeding winds up, as Post careens through his cherry-picked sonic landscape with little rhyme or reasons, and occasionally stumbling upon a gem amidst valiant but misguided ideas. There’s bravery to that that can be respected, but where an album like beerbongs & bentleys was defined by its hitmaking prowess and soared because of it, deliberately dialling that back lands with all the mixed results one would expect.
That’s generally because, when everything is shuffled around to such an extent, the propensity for the emotional extremities on both ends that often feed into what makes Post’s best material so compelling is severely diminished. As clearly tacked onto the end as Wow. is, there’s an inescapably exuberant vibe that comes in its skeletal bass snap and Post’s gleeful flexing that coalesces to make it so forceful; conversely, tracks like Saint-Tropez and Enemies aim for a similar vibe but never go far enough in any direction to hit that sweet spot, with the former trying to follow Sugar Wraith’s cues of balancing propulsive darkness with embracing success but not going far enough, and the latter somewhat held up by a typically elasticated verse from DaBaby to distract from how marred by dull production it is. Thankfully he’s far more successful at channelling darkness and melancholy and reaching a forceful cathartic apex that way, as he seethes about the vampiric nature of fame and stardom on the title track and mourns over how draining his vices are on his relationships on Sunflower. It’s those turbulent relationships that ultimately forge Hollywood’s Bleeding’s best and most searingly tense moments, like the three-way war of attrition with Future and Halsey on Die For Me and the snarling angst that all parties bring, or the haunting guest turn from Ozzy Osbourne on Take What You Want among pounding drums and metallic guitars as Post and Travis Scott rage against their exes’ infidelities.
But away from all of that, it’s disappointing just how much Hollywood’s Bleeding falls down the middle with a very muted impact overall. Part of that is, once again, down to lyrics that don’t really do a lot beyond what they absolutely need to to ensure the song is complete (or in the case of Internet and its laughably out-of-place chastising of social media, not even that), but some of the instrumental directions that Post takes just don’t feel all that connective with what he’s best at. The swaying, mid-paced indie-pop of Circles is fine enough, but translating it over to the upbeat guitars and staccato hook of Allergic pulls from a place within indie-rock that feels naturally throwaway, while the big, sweeping strings of Internet and modern pop cushioning of Myself are clearly pivots towards something more introspective, but have almost all of the bite and grit that Post can bring completely shaved away. As for Post himself, he’s far from a bad vocalist and leaning almost exclusively into his singing brings out the more emotional presence that’s definitely a more natural fit for him, but he’s missing the killer lines and hooks that made beerbongs & bentleys feel so vital, something which gives his guest vocalists more opportunities than they should have to vault over him. That’s not a guarantee, especially when Meek Mill and Lil Baby struggle to even stay on the rhythm of On The Road, but Ozzy, Halsey, Future and DaBaby all feel like far more defiant presences that can bring more in shorter bursts.
And that’s ultimately the biggest shortcoming of Hollywood’s Bleeding. Even though it’s not as long as beerbongs & bentleys, there was a tightness and focus on crafting excellent hits that kept its momentum so high; here, the peaks and troughs are far more directly telegraphed, and while it’s a good display of how wide-reaching Post is as a musician, it’s a flabbier, baggier album that doesn’t hit as frequently or with the same level of consistency. It certainly does hit though, and at its best, there are great songs and individual turns that with certainly further Post’s move out of straight hip-hop and into a much more diverse, metropolitan sound. But it could’ve been done better overall, and even though Hollywood’s Bleeding does have the flashes evident of a continually dominating force in modern music, Post has been more compelling in the past, and he’s achieved a lot more with much less.
For fans of: Juice WRLD, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hollywood’s Bleeding’ by Post Malone is out now on Republic Records.