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You’d be forgiven for being surprised that Twelve Carat Toothache is the first studio album in three years for 26-year-old Austin Post. Putting aside the way the pandemic turned time into taffy, the tattoo-studded pop star known as Post Malone kept busy since the release of 2019’s blockbuster Hollywood’s Bleeding, playing a much-beloved Nirvana tribute livestream, appearing in ads for cred-hungry products, and even covering Hootie and the Blowfish to celebrate a quarter-century of Pokémon.
More importantly, his kitchen-sink take on pop, which borrows ideas from the past few decades of music, sticks them in a blender, and adds some pensive vibes and updated luxury-brand references, has proven to be mightily influential; bits of Posty can be heard in chart-toppers like Glass Animals’ woozy “Heat Waves” and the Kid LAROI’s barreling “Stay,” as well as scores of songs that zipped up other streaming charts.
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Post’s fourth full-length was written in Malibu as a response to his feeling restless during 2020’s lockdown, and its 14 songs (including one voice-memo demo) show, in fits and starts, how he’s working on expanding his sound. It opens with a shout-out to Nirvana — “You’re the superstar, entertain us,” he wails on the piano-and-Post cut “Reputation” — and whirls through genres and styles from there.
The best moments come when Post looks within for inspiration. “Lemon Tree,” which puts Post’s quivering vibrato front and center, uses the splendor of California gardens to illustrate his sour outlook on life; its lyrics and prominent bassline, not to mention Post’s twangy enunciation of the word “better,” make it sound almost appropriate for a honky-tonk jukebox, although its space-age synths and ghostly backing vocals place it squarely in Post’s world. “Euthanasia” is a stark portrait of self-loathing and the harsh light that sobriety can cast on one’s life; its album-closing demo version makes one wonder how Post’s other tracks evolved into pop world-beaters.
Twelve Carat Toothache is packed with big-name cameos, most of which supply mutual brand-burnishing. Indie folkers Fleet Foxes add choir atmospherics to “Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol,” a pummeling rock ballad that grapples with the ups and downs of drinking. Compton trap MC Roddy Rich adds a dense guest verse that salutes Post for taking him on tour on the cavernous party track “Cooped Up”; fellow 21st-century pop royal the Weeknd adds his hiccupping Hey!‘s and his scathing views on gender relations to the sumptuous robo-funk cut “One Right Now.” The presence of Doja Cat, whose pop Q rating over the past few years has rivaled Post’s, turns the heart-eyed “I Like You (A Happier Song)” into the album’s lightest offering, although the descriptions of limerence and big-ticket items that she and Post outline make it no surprise that it’s followed up by the bleaker — if still upbeat and accented by a sticky countermelody — “I Cannot Be (A Sadder Song).”
Near the end of Twelve Carat Toothache is the regret-soaked “When I’m Alone,” a galloping apologia to an ex Post betrayed. Part “Mr. Brightside,” part “Stay,” it offers a glimpse of where Post’s music might go next; even as he sings of discomfort and anomie, he sounds most at home being in command of a massive rock band, knowing there are hordes of people who will follow his every utterance.
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