Post Malone Optimizes the Algorithm on ‘Hollywood’s Bleeding’: Review

On ‘Hollywood’s Bleeding,’ Post Malone makes the most of his pliable vocal tone, pop-sensibilities, and curatorial ear while downplaying his greatest weakness: himself.
Post Malone Optimizes the Algorithm on 'Hollywood's Bleeding': Review

There’s a scene in 2018’s Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse where Miles Morales, the film’s protagonist, is jamming out to “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee, and he gets carried away half-singing along to the song’s buoyant melodies. I say "half-singing," because "singing” isn’t an accurate description of what he’s doing, really. He approximates the notes to the best of his ability, recites the stray lyrics he can remember, and blissfully mumbles the rest without concern for specificity.

Listening to Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post’s third studio album, I caught myself thinking about this scene a lot. Nearly every song on the album, "Sunflower" included, seems deliberately engineered to simulate this type of listening experience.

Counterintuitively, this is both the album’s greatest strength and its most glaring flaw. Across its 17 tracks, there isn’t a single outlier that isn’t an enjoyable listen on its own merits. Coated in a thick layer of gloss, packed with ear candy, and expertly structured around massive hooks, there is no questioning these are hit records. Conceivably, there will come a point in the next few months where you'll hear the contagious song “Goodbyes" in a public setting. Begrudgingly, you'll admit that you "kind of like it," and then surprise yourself by knowing one-third of the lyrics. Even the project’s worst song, the garish “Take What You Want,” featuring Ozzy Osbourne, is redeemed by an inspired guest turn from Travis Scott. 

The cracks in Post’s veneer only start to show when you listen to these songs in sequence. Upon doing so, they all begin to feel a bit empty, like an indulgent fast food meal that leaves you dissatisfied in an hour. Much like Miles Morales, listeners will be able to recall select lyrics instead of entire verses. These songs don’t necessarily consist of fully formed thoughts, so much as they do a series of disjoint refrains.

Lyrics like "Used to have friends now I got enemies (Ooh) Used to keep 'em close, now they dead to me (Damn),” for example, aren’t so much the product of honest emotional inventory, so much as they come across as solipsistic bumper sticker slogans. Ditto: "Said you'd take a bullet, told me you would die for me / I had a really bad feeling you'd been lying to me,which sounds like Post wrote the record to facilitate listeners’ drunken catharsis, not to serve a narrative through-line.

Unfortunately, the exceptions to this rule stand out as glaringly as the rule itself. In the rare moments when Post decides to inject his lyrics with details particular to his life or personality, it’s borderline jarring. This is because the album has conditioned us to think of him as a musical vessel rather than a complex human being. When Post complains about a widely-mocked, viral video of himself on the song “Internet,” for example, it feels downright bizarre since the remainder of the album makes him feel like an afterthought.

If the latter point sounds unjustifiably harsh, I promise that isn’t my intention. In studying his trajectory, Post’s career arc has taught us that he’s an incredibly gifted artist who occasionally tends to get in his own way. On Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post and his collaborators have found a way to optimize around these parameters. They make the most of his pliable vocal tone, pop-sensibilities, and curatorial ear while downplaying his greatest weakness: himself. 

The resulting product may collectively sound like audio fast food, but that’s perfectly fine because fast food is cheap, quick, and undeniably appealing.

Standout Track: “Circles”
Best Bar:If ignorance is bliss, then don't wake me up / And I'll prolly be the last to know, cause I don't get on the internet no more”
Favorite Moment: Swae Lee crooning the hook on “Sunflower.”