AUSTIN has to be Post Malone’s guitar album, if only because, as he proudly noted, he plays guitar on every track. He’s no stranger to the instrument of course, and he has dialed down the trap-pop dial and replaced it with various speeds of six-string pop-rock. He’s still drinking too much, still smoking like an oil fire. But the most interesting thing about Post Malone’s fifth album is how his vices have changed from rote signifiers to features of his mental landscape. His chauffeur’s doing tequila shots, so Post takes a cab home. He pukes in someone’s bathroom, then pauses to admire the tiling. His relationships are co-dependent, but at least he’s got company. Propulsive lead single “Chemical” tints its bad romance with a yearning three-note bass figure. “Outside of the party, smokin’ in the car with you/‘Seven Nation Army,’ fightin’ at the bar with you,” he sings, cherishing every tainted memory. “Sign Me Up” is the same situation with a New Romantic spin. “If your love is a cult/Then I’m in it,” Post shrugs, skipping past all the red flags until he comes upon his one true dealbreaker: when she tries to take his liquor away.
While his guitar album is decidedly not a country album, the tenderness with which he regards whatever bottle’s at hand is certainly the most country thing about it. “2 a.m. they ran out of lemonade,” he croons on “Enough Is Enough,” splitting the difference between Morgan Wallen and Warren Zevon, “So I shot that vodka straight anyway.” The combination of electric piano and acoustic strum conjures the illusion of a banjo. But when the drums come in it’s pure Antonoff homage. On the boom-clap ballad “Landmine,” Post swings from the heels like fun.’s Nate Ruess. In the lyrics, Post’s self-conscious about ripping cigs while his friends are taking supplements; he ostentatiously breaks out a pack to see if it catches anyone’s interest. The track has some poignant bits for any partier approaching (or careening through) their thirties. But more importantly: It has a bridge.
For some reason—fear of boring his fans, obedience to the preferences of the streaming services, a career focused on club bangers—Malone won’t let these songs breathe. The result is an album that’s overstuffed and undercooked, no matter what he and co-producers Louis Bell and Andrew Watt try. The balearic boogie of “Speedometer” is lovely, but too brief to enter a dream state. The chamber-folk “Green Thumb” may be the most creatively ambitious thing Malone’s attempted, just him and a guitar and a whole chorus conversing with an ex’s dying plant. He’s clearly proud of it: In his Zane Lowe interview, he talked at length—Martin acoustic at hand—about the challenge of writing and performing the song. Yet it’s built like it’s something to quickly usher offstage. It’s over faster than you can return from the beer line.
But when he does dip into pop-rap, the results are as richly weird as Post at his best. He chases the Nirvana Unplugged vibes of opener “Don’t Understand” with “Something Real,” a doomy, choir-backed lurch through luxury. He stomps from foreign island to foreign island, popping mushrooms and strapping skeleton watches on like armor. In the album’s most audacious moment, he croons, “I could play that pussy like it’s Für Elise,” twisting the melody until it becomes Beethoven’s. He’s firmly in his bagatelle. This is Post at his strongest: audaciously raiding the entire pop toolkit. Even after forsaking Los Angeles for Utah, his life remains a movie: loaded with state-of-the-industry pyrotechnics, bristling with guns, and littered with synergistic product tie-ins. It makes AUSTIN, in directorial terms, a one-for-me situation: a passion project secured with almost a decade at the summit of pop-rap as collateral.
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