Post Malone – Twelve Carat Toothache (Album Review)

Post Malone – Twelve Carat Toothache Album Review
Post Malone – Twelve Carat Toothache Album Review

 

 

Nearly a decade into his career, Post Malone has mostly shed the baggage of his younger years—the days of cornrows, gold grills, saucin’, and shortsighted remarks about rap music. He’s a nine-time Grammy nominee and a stylish guy who, at a quick glance, hasn’t gotten any more tattoos—at least not on his face.

He’s become part of the pop music establishment, and his fourth studio album, Twelve Carat Toothache, is accordingly slick, streamlined, and a little less vulgar and ostentatious than his earlier work—a sign that Malone is taking himself more seriously, for better or worse.

For someone so outwardly colorful, Malone has long been a straightforward lyricist with funny and curious turns of phrases in his songs. There was, of course, the absurd saucin’-and-swaggin’ refrain of “White Iverson,” as well as his amusingly puerile mention of “beautiful b00bies” on “Spoil My Night.”

But he also incorporates unlikely people into his memorable moments, like eulogizing Bon Scott on “Rockstar,” or singing, “Come with the Tony Romo for clowns and all the bozos” on “Psycho.” Even when he flexes, Malone has a penchant for exposing the leeriness of his own desires, as on Beerbongs & Bentleys songs “Takin’ Shots” and “Same b!tches.”

On Twelve Carat Toothache, he continues to play it straight, declaring in the opening song, “I was born to raise hell/I was born to take pills,” and, “I was born to f*ck H0es/I was born to f*ck up.” There are probably more artful ways to phrase those sentiments, but that’s not how he operates:

He delivers directly what’s in front of him, whether that’s the front of his mind or a front-facing mirror, as on “Cooped Up” when he lists exactly what he’s wearing (“Gucci my Prada, Miyake/Louie, Bottega, and Tommy”).

The songs on Twelve Carat Toothache swerve between pain and joy, and while Malone has always fit lament into his albums, these new sad songs don’t feel tortured, labored, or ungracious.

Instead, Malone deftly plays up bitterness with a wink on the jaunty “Lemon Tree,” trilling his voice with a playful hyperbole. Elsewhere, the wonderfully over-the-top “Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol,” made with Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, opens with a cascade of vocal harmonies.

The production booms and the drums thunder as Malone sings about getting too drunk and having all of his teeth knocked out. Though you can hear the sorrow in the tone and the lyrics, the song sounds triumphant—like something that could conceivably soundtrack a raucous night out.

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“Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol” is also a rare instance of exaggeration on an album that is musically compact. While he’s great with a hook, Malone’s previous album, 2019’s Hollywood’s Bleeding, was bloated with too many ideas and genre forays.

The good hooks remain on Twelve Carat Toothache, but now, the mood of the album is cohesive. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “I Like You (A Happier Song)” make up an irresistible one-two pop combo, as frothy as Bud Light foam—the former wastes no time by opening with the chorus; the latter has him jovially singing, “Your heart’s so big, but that ass is huge.”

But Malone’s tendency toward being crass is part of his appeal—his gift for melody and radio hits come unfiltered, and he doesn’t need to try to make his come-ons sound particularly attractive. The id is tamer on Twelve Carat Toothache, but it has not disappeared.

The missteps of Twelve Carat Toothache are clustered toward the end; the songs, even the pained ones, are disappointingly saccharine and don’t have strong hooks to overcome the lack of texture.

Generally, Malone does not galvanize with big feelings or drill down with vivid descriptions and minutiae; he’s a much better songwriter when he leans on being a little off-kilter, making pop with some element of surprise, like when he sings “Some people got an apple/Some people got a tangerine,” on “Lemon Tree.” During the album’s weaker moments, it’s not just that Malone is writing in broader, blander strokes.

He isn’t writing with his typical quirks—like the couplet on “Wasting Angels” that goes, “This is like when I was sane, before the fame/Uh-oh, uh oh, this life is crazy.” Uh-oh, uh-oh is right.

Malone is aware of his talents and even his limitations, but there’s a sense that he wants more, whether that’s earning the respect afforded to someone like Kurt Cobain or just escaping the box created by his reputation and success.

He has spoken about how he wanted to make a shorter album without streaming filler, a telltale move from an artist looking to ascend to Career Musician—and the album closes with a demo, emphasizing the time and thought that went into the whole body of work.

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While a little gloom can go a long way, the rapper/singer’s congeniality is ultimately what makes Post Malone who he is—the type of guy who calls himself “that b!tch,” as he does here. On “Reputation,” Malone nods to Cobain by singing, “You’re the superstar, entertain us,” an allusion to the weariness that fame breeds. For better and worse, Malone is still the entertainer.

Within five years of his debut, American rapper and singer/songwriter Post Malone went from genre novelty to certified superstar, amassing a string of Top Ten singles with a hybrid style that combined his unique vocal delivery, pained lyrics, and hip-hop production inspired as much by Tim McGraw as Kanye West.

After the release of his 2015 quintuple-platinum single “White Iverson,” off debut Stoney, he quickly ascended to the top of the pop mainstream in the late 2010s with a succession of multi-platinum hits that included chart-toppers “Rockstar” with 21 Savage and “Psycho” with Ty Dolla $ign from 2018’s number one Grammy-nominated album Beerbongs & Bentleys, and the Grammy-nominated “Sunflower” with Swae Lee from 2019’s Hollywood’s Bleeding. His fourth long-player, Twelve Carat Toothache, appeared in 2022.

Raised in Dallas, Austin Post loved a wide range of music from a young age and planned on joining a band thanks to the video game Guitar Hero. When his dad gave him a copy of Terror Squad’s hit “Lean Back,” though, Post decided to become an MC.

He hung with Dallas crew the IRAS until a move to the West Coast dropped him in Los Angeles. After putting some braids in his hair, he coined the term “White Iverson,” and when he posted the track in early 2015, he hit a million views within a month. Post signed with the Republic label later that year.

In 2016, he released the single “Go Flex” along with his official debut mixtape, August 26th. Months later, his first studio effort arrived. Stoney featured guests ranging from Justin Bieber to Migos’ Quavo to Kehlani, peaking at number four on the Billboard 200 and later achieving multi-platinum certification.

Following the success of his debut, Post issued the chart-topping singles “Rockstar” with 21 Savage and “Psycho” with Ty Dolla $ign, which reached a combined total of 13-times platinum. Those hit tracks landed on his sophomore follow-up, Beerbongs & Bentleys, which dealt with his rapid climb to fame and all its trappings.

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The set reached number one upon release and was later nominated for Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards. Along with producers Scott Storch, PartyNextDoor, Louis Bell, and London on da Track, the dark, introspective affair also featured guest rappers Nicki Minaj, YG, and G-Eazy, as well as the additional radio hit “Better Now.”

In between official full-lengths, Post capitalized on his steady ascent in the mainstream, hopping onto the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack with previous collaborator Swae Lee. Their duet, “Sunflower,” topped the charts across the globe and marked a slight pop-smart shift in Post’s production.

“Wow,” “Goodbyes” with Young Thug, and “Circles” all followed, firmly planting him in the Hot 100’s upper reaches for much of 2019. This quartet of hits all appeared on his third effort, Hollywood’s Bleeding, which recruited guests Da Baby, Future, Halsey, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, SZA, Travis Scott, and even Ozzy Osbourne. His second number one album, the set topped the Billboard 200 for at least five non-consecutive weeks, the most for any artist that year.

While “Circles” became his fourth Hot 100 chart-topper at the close of the year, he received a pair of Grammy nominations for his other 2019 number one, “Sunflower,” including Record of the Year. Post’s 2020 output mainly consisted of guest appearances including on Tyla Yaweh’s “Tommy Lee” and Big Sean’s “Wolves.”

He returned to solo work in 2021 with a cover of Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be with You” for the Pokemon 25 album, and his own track, “Motley Crew.” The following year, he released his fourth full-length effort, Twelve Carat Toothache, which featured guest spots from Doja Cat, the Kid Laroi, and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold.

Dealing with the pressures and pitfalls of fame and fortune, the oft-dour set included hit singles “Cooped Up” with Roddy Ricch and “One Right Now” with The Weeknd. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & David Jeffries, Rovi