Post Malone is a Northern-born rapper who also sings on somewhat of a Southern tip, melding country, rock, hip-hop and modern soft soul into one frothy whole. You have gone platinum countless times, with 2016’s “Stoney” and 2018’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys,” for that same sandy mix and its drowsy drawl. On your brand new album, you’re playing host to Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Scott. And yet you’ve still managed to not become Kid Rock.
Congratulations, Post Malone. And welcome, everyone, to “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” a cushier, dammed near respectable take on his usual tortured soul-wronged mien, with enough caramel sweetness in a majority of its melodies to differentiate his past from his present.
However, in 2019 Malone has managed to keep his head down and nose clean of old controversies such as cultural appropriation charges, or of choosing Dylan lyrics over hip-hop texts, does not hurt when it comes to the clearer, gentler focus of “Hollywood’s Bleeding.”
Moreover, Malone seems something of a trap Teflon Don, untouchable and unstoppable. His oddly unthreatening face tats and unique fashion sense would point toward Malone having a hard rapper’s sartorial sensibility, yet his doughy sotto voce is as round as his face, and just as comforting.
Mean while, in pop, there’s no better thing to be than a comfort. Happily, Post still has to have a call, a tic, a hint of rap’s danger to merit the tattoos and what they should represent. So like Drake — whom Malone emulates in one of the new songs, “Wow,” with its sinewy, reed-thin melody, talking bridges and icy breeziness — Post owns and operates the refined trap-pop vibe, the polished gem of hip-hop.
That he’s been offering glimmers of this subdued sound since “Congratulations,” from his 2016 album “Stoney” (a song he references during “Wow” with its cocksure dis of all who doubted his prowess), shows how cleverly he’s honed and chopped away at this distillation. He’s made us aware of his sonic progress and purification process step by step with a series of singles between “Beerbongs” and “Bleeding.”
It’s quite sure, he’s still willing to “be the bad guy now,” during the windy AutoTune-d pop of “Circles,” a swishy sound almost unusual to the Post Malone canon, and a far cry from the ratty rapping of early semi-smashes such as “White Iverson.” But the loping rhythms and strummed guitar orchestra are nearly as romantic as his lyrics here, with Malone whisper-crooning lines such as “Seasons change and our love went cold / Feed the fame, ’cause we can’t let go.”
The wobbly “Die for Me” — with Halsey and Future in the VIP section, with their own forms of braggadocio on display — finds Malone lost, lonely and a little bit disgusted that his “love at first sight” got him arrested (“But at least when I was in jail, I got some rest in”). Kudos to Halsey for doing more with her guest appearance here on the line “I sold 15 million copies of a break-up note” than in her entire career.
Even the wifty title track, for all of its nattering talk of metaphorical vampires in the Hollywood hills, gives off a sense of longing for someone Malone senses he’ll never get back: “You never took the time to get to know me / Was scared of losing something that we never found.”
Beyond lover-boy romanticism, there’s ruminating introspection to be found on this third Post album. Take “Myself,” with its vintage soul vibe and inward-looking chorus of “It’s what it is, it’s how I live / All the places I’ve been / I wish I could’ve been there myself.” Maybe Malone is realizing that being such a dick for so long has kept him from the romance he craves in “Circles.” Then again, Malone goes off on its verses, spouting, “All of this American dreaming / Everybody’s sick of believing / Let’s not give a f— ’til giving a f— has no meaning.” So maybe now he’s cool with being a dick to the American Dream as a whole, rather than one or two women.
Putting Travis Scott and Ozzy Osbourne together on the shuddering, metal-filled “Take What You Want” seems like something of a prank until Oz gets all monster-y with the line “Why don’t you take what you want from me?” The song’s crackle and thunder might sound out of place on “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” but there are so many mixed bags here — the quaint synth-pop of “Staring at the Sun” with its soulful fragrance notes courtesy SZA; the late ’90s indie-rock feel of “Allergic” — that almost nothing sounds too in place to begin with.
The quivering voice of “Goodbyes” relies on Malone’s love of all things Nirvana in which to make comparisons to a messy relationship (“Me and Kurt feel the same, too much pleasure is pain / My girl spites me in vain, all I do is complain). Though Malone tries to remove himself on “Hollywood’s Bleeding” from the body bags and violated women he made famous on 2018’s “Beerbongs,” guest star Young Thug’s high-pitched raps bring Post right back to the start with his “slice you and dice you” lyrics. Malone does his best at old school romanticism with the line “I’m no good at goodbyes” and a sound softer than cotton balls, but a murderous power ballad is a murderous power ballad, even if the lead singer is doe-eyed in love with his victim.
So for the most part, “Hollywood’s Bleeding” portrays Post Malone as being on his best behavior, a brushed-denim croon-rapper tamed by trap-pop and a wont for love that seems ever so slightly out of reach. Yet there’s still that bad boy thing he’s got to get out of his system.
“I’m Gonna Be” has a sweet sway similar to “Circles” in its pillowy guitar lines and a catchy chorus that only semi-rages with “I’m gonna be what I want / I’m gonna do what I want, when I want, when I want — yeah.” Which is cool, until Malone gets all haughty and Sinatra-like on the verse: “Pop the top, fill my cup up, yeah / Keep ‘em pourin’ ’til I’m f—ed up, oh yeah.” Frank put it more elegantly, but you get the point.