There is an evident progression to Post Malone’s music over the last half decade. From the slow shedding of the hip-hop influence that defined his artistry early on, to the continuous growth of his inner voice appearing more frequently in his lyricism, it’s clear that Post Malone has become far more comfortable with opening up, rather than appealing to his target demographics. Twelve Carat Toothache is the most updated version of this progression, where listeners are not only given the most intimate and personal perspective of Post Malone thus far, but also a greater understanding of how difficult it is to be in his position right now. The gravity and darkness of the album’s inward reflection is commendable, which makes it that much more unfortunate that the music that packages these themes is so disappointing.
The sound of Twelve Carat Toothache is almost solely pop and pop genre fusions, a change that shouldn’t be too surprising for anyone who has followed his musical path to the top of the charts, but there is a new sense of comfort in this pop-star identity that also builds on musical styles that were only previously seen in flashes. “Lemon Tree” for example, finds Post in his most unabashed alt-singer/songwriter outfit, getting into the climb out of his depressive state and misfortune.
Tracks such as “Wasting Angels” and “Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol” also experiment with group vocal harmonies and theatrical instrumentation that produce genuinely captivating moments in spurts. And “Wrapped Around Your Finger” serves as a necessary reminder to Post’s unparalleled knack for ear-worm hooks that have defined his artistry for so long.
But even these standout moments, which don’t appear in great quantity across the album, are undermined by the major issues Twelve Carat Toothache contains with its vocal performances, musical arrangement, and audio production. Post Malone’s vocal delivery has never sounded so strained or wavering as it does here, his recurring vibrato on tracks such as “Reputation” coming off rather grating to the ears. There also is the overwhelming amount of reverb that often drowns vocal performances, to a point where the human quality of Post’s voice is almost indistinguishable at times. Not only does it struggle to capture the emotional sentiments of the heavy themes conveyed track-to-track, but it also makes the album just plain difficult to connect to, even from a casual listening standpoint.
The biggest disappointment, however, is the general lack of musical ambition that the album boxes his sincerity and intimacy into. The lyricism is arguably as afflicted and distressed as it has ever been for Post, and yet songs that detail specific issues to him such as “Cooped Up” or “I Cannot Be (A Sadder Song)” are diluted with flat songwriting and unmemorable big-name guest verses to be more easily digestible.
Thus, Twelve Carat Toothache feels like a shortcoming of the material it was given to work with. The project simply suffers from its sound, which is a shame given all that Post is trying to convey over the course of the fourteen tracks. In an alternate world where the musical component is refined and sharp, this album has the chance to make a real impact.