Photo Credit: Adam DeGross
Austin Richard Post has a pretty serious self-destructive streak. If his recent admission to smoking up to 80 cigarettes a day wasn’t sufficient proof of this, his fourth album as Post Malone is. Indeed, if there’s one throughline across Twelve Carat Toothache, it’s one man’s ability to sabotage himself even as he reaches the stratosphere of fame and wealth. “Take my own life just to save yours” is the unnerving line with which Post opens the forty-three-minute pop-meets-punk-meets-rap Twelve Carat Toothache – an album of unrelenting self-pity and hopelessness.
It’s been less than three years since Post’s last album Hollywood’s Bleeding was released and unleashed the inescapable mega-hit “Circles” onto the world. Chalk it up to the pandemic perhaps, but for whatever reason, it feels like far longer ago – which is why Twelve Carat Toothache has been widely labeled a “comeback”, including by Post himself (“I been waiting so long // Now I gotta resurface”).
In the time since Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post has failed to create another “Circles” – or another “Rockstar” or “Psycho” for that matter. Lead single “One Right Now”, featuring The Weeknd, is a lackluster attempt to recreate the success of those songs – with the Weeknd’s usual spark diminished amidst a sea of half-a-dozen big-name producers. “Cooped Up” fares even worse, lacking a memorable hook or any real incisive moments at all, and featuring one of the most ill-fitting features (Roddy Rich) in recent musical history.
More damning than the lack of obvious hits, however, is Post’s failure to create anything resembling a meaningful artistic statement after what has clearly been a hugely tumultuous period for both the world at large and for Post himself. The lyrics across Twelve Carat Toothache range from sloganistic (“This is who I am, can’t be anyone else”) to uninspired (“This is like another thing I can’t explain”) to actively toxic (“In every film I watch, I’m on the side of the bad guy”).
What’s obvious across the LP is the gulf between the ambitious opus Post intended to make and the album he ultimately created. The opener “Reputation” tries to act as a thoughtful meditation on the impact of sudden fame and the pressure that comes along with that. But like the Taylor Swift album of the same name, it ultimately ends up too self-centered to do so effectively. “You’re the superstar, entertain us”, Post sings at one point in the song, recalling in the process Sleater-Kinney’s “Entertain” – a song which far more effectively confronted the same themes as Post, with more pointed lyricism, sharper production and more viscerally arranged music.
There are hints of a better album buried underneath the surface. “Euthanasia” finds Post strip-back his sound for the first time on the album, and in the process, he stumbles upon a sound befitting his somber reflections on addiction and mortality. The contribution of indie stalwarts Fleet Foxes on “Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol”, meanwhile, livens up the mix considerably.
After four deeply disappointing tracks that open the album, Doja Cat comes in on “I Like You” and injects the first hints of life into the LP. She instantly runs laps around Post, with a characteristically dynamic and captivating performance. It’s one of the few moments where it feels as though the listener is being directly engaged. This album highlight doesn’t even make for one of Doja’s stronger performances, and that is a damning indictment of Twelve Carat Toothache’s fundamental shortcomings.