The culture wasn’t demanding a James-Franco-in-Spring-Breakers-esque rapper-crooner in summer 2015, when “White Iverson” quietly started its months-long climb to No. 14 on the Hot 100. But Post Malone was fruitful, and his smashes multiplied. “White Iverson” (30 weeks on the Hot 100) beget “Congratulations” feat. Quavo (50 weeks) beget “Rockstar” feat. 21 Savage (41 weeks, his first No. 1) beget “Psycho” feat. Ty Dolla Sign (39 weeks, his second No. 1) beget “Sunflower” with Swae Lee (45 weeks, his third No. 1). He’s hit the top five twice this year. And he’s done it all with seemingly little reverence for hip-hop itself, saying in a 2017 interview that he doesn’t recommend rap lyrics if you’re “looking to think about life,” and setting out to prove as much with lines like, “I spotted lil’ mama through the wall at Jabroni’s/Point her out so I can bag her if they just bring her to me / I ain’t even seen her face, but she got beautiful boobies” (2018’s “Spoil My Night” feat. Swae Lee, five weeks on the Hot 100).
But if Post Malone can be a bit of a booby, he’s a beautiful one. Try as he might to plumb his personal darkness — he’s got a top 20 hit called “Paranoid,” and a new song called “Enemies” — his music inexorably drifts into a dreamy, wistful register. “Sunflower,” for example. Inescapable since its release on the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack last year and included on Posty’s new album, Hollywood’s Bleeding, for your convenience and the album’s streaming totals, it’s tender melancholy without equal on radio this year. Taken together, his many hits have enveloped pop like a rejuvenating cloud of cucumber vape.
Posty’s signature blend of tart content and evanescent delivery carries his third album. “Enemies” shrugs off its own platitudinous pondering of friends-turned-haters with its very melody, a low-stakes balmy sing-song. When featured streaming sensation DaBaby butts in with a rat-a-tat, pile-up flow, it highlights Post Malone’s technical laxity as a rapper, but also his unerring instinct for what will cut through the ambient noise in the car, at the supermarket or during hour four of the frat party. That instinct is not Posty’s alone — writer-producer Louis Bell has been his constant collaborator — but his subtle rasp sands a little extra grip into the airiest of melodies.
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It was perhaps inevitable that our man, who has made no secret of his veneration for rock gods like Bob Dylan, would look past the Post Malone Sound. Not that there’s anything Dylanesque here. (Unless you count “Versace boxers on my dick/Bud Light runnin’ through my piss” — though it is daring product placement, and “Saint-Tropez,” the slow-rolling, bass-heavy song it adorns, is a toothsome bit of candy.) Instead, he jumps Crocs-first into pop-rock with “Allergic,” a fleet blast of hand-clap-ready nostalgia, and pure pop with “A Thousand Bad Times,” which sounds like how dancing with your weird uncle at a wedding feels.
Post Malone curates as much as he creates, and there’s not a misplaced feature among the 10 spread across seven of these tracks. Young Thug steals “Goodbyes” with a typically transfixing, artfully yelped verse; Future and especially Halsey juice up the drama on “Die for Me”; SZA takes “Staring at the Sun” into a swoon. And Posty finally walks among the gods on “Take What You Want,” in which Ozzy Osbourne wails from a paranoid past and Travis Scott robo-sings from a future dystopia. It’s not Post Malone’s best song, but in a way it’s his most interesting: An unstoppable hitmaker drowning out his own sweetly pleading voice.