After over two years and an entire global pandemic, Post Malone has finally returned to the music industry, accompanied by his most vulnerable release yet. Malone’s fourth studio album Twelve Carat Toothache is an exploration of the sadness that defines the singer’s life, complete with somber, intense production and tracks about his relationships with himself and with others.
Contrary to what you’d expect based on his hits, Post Malone is no stranger to creating introspective music, as seen on deep cuts like “Feeling Whitney” from previous albums. Yet it’s safe to say he’s never fully committed to maintaining this brand of lyrical content across a full-length project before. Twelve Carat Toothache is his attempt at doing just this, and while Malone is definitely no lyrical genius, after spinning the album a few times, it does feel like his words are authentic and come from a real place.
The problem, at least in the first half of the album, is that the execution is inconsistent. “Reputation” is a good intro in terms of the topics of fame and self-awareness that it addresses, but it gets a bit bogged down by its slowness and slightly over-the-top melodrama. In the context of the album, it’s perfectly listenable, due in part to its smooth transition into the single “Cooped Up,” a seemingly quarantine-inspired jam that gets its impact from a simple yet bouncy drum pattern and a bombastic chorus.
Although the musical transition from “Reputation” to “Cooped Up” is effective, the lyrical one is a bit more jarring, going from a reflective track straight into a more generic one. “Lemon Tree” sets the album back on track, as Post Malone uses this song to reveal his dissatisfaction with how his life compares to others’ and his determination to pull himself in a direction that makes him happier (I might be in the minority when I say that I like the twang he puts on his voice whenever he sings the word “better”). But once again, a strong thematic song, which in this case is one of the better songs of the album’s first half, is followed up by a mild tune, this time in “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” which is inoffensive enough to listen to fully during an album playthrough but too lacking in catchiness and message to stand out among its peers.
The duality of the next two tracks, “I Like You (A Happier Song)” and “I Cannot Be (A Sadder Song),” is intriguing. The former blends an uptempo beat with a well-placed Doja Cat verse to create one of the best songs of the album; I really like how the bridge darts in with a sudden barrage of harmonies and then withdraws again to let the hook wrap up the track. The latter is less engaging, with a low-energy Gunna feature and bland production. But the two function well together, with “I Like You” focusing on the excitement of an initial attraction and “I Cannot Be” detailing feelings of restrictiveness in a more developed relationship.
“Insane” is the worst offender on the album. This track is the definition of filler; in fact, Malone literally starts the second verse with the lyrics “Second verse, second verse, yay / Second verse, second verse, again.” It’s not a memorable song at all, and I’m confused as to why Malone and his label even decided to include it on the project.
Twelve Carat Toothache is buoyed by its second half, which is kicked off by “Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol.” This song continues the theme of duality by depicting Malone’s mixed feelings towards alcohol, as seen in the lines “You’re the reason why I got my ass kicked / But you’re the only way to drown my sadness.” Malone’s verses even have a storytelling aspect to them that makes this one of the more unique songs on the album. “Wasting Angels” continues the momentum with a track that dives into the whirlwind of fame and how crazy everything can get. I’m not the biggest fan of this cut sonically, but it has its place on the album as a lucid moment in the middle of a fast-paced life.
“Euthanasia” is the centerpiece of the album and arguably its best song. It’s almost similar to “Reputation” in terms of soundscape, but it has a hospital-like quality to it, with a sound that resembles a heart monitor in the beat and drums that throb like a heartbeat. It almost feels like the last moments before they pull the plug — I love the writing on the song, with its hard-hitting lines (“I should crack one open / To celebrate being clean”) and album title reference (“I spit another tooth in the trash can”).
Afterward, the project begins its falling action with “When I’m Alone,” another relationship song that’s pleasant enough on its own but a bit strange in its placement right before “Waiting On A Miracle.” This last track is the true conclusion of the album, with Malone delivering a vulnerable verse where it seems like even suicide is an option on his table. There is no happy ending: instead of going down this final path, Malone decides to continue relying on drugs to give him strength. Although it’s a poignant moment, it feels like the rest of the album preceding this track didn’t do enough to properly build to it.
I give Post Malone props for deciding on a more lyrically ambitious album, but Twelve Carat Toothache is still a bit too choppy in its sequencing and one-dimensional in its melodic elements for me to give it continuous spins. Still, while this album might not be as much of a “hit after hit” type of project as Post Malone’s previous releases, its decision to emphasize emotionality has clearly led to growth in the singer’s songwriting that I’m interested to see evolve on his next album.
Nihar Hegde is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].