Post Malone’s ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’ Is a Catchy Auto-Tune Odyssey
Rapper, singer, and producer Post Malone first stormed the scene with his 2015 debut single, “White Iverson,” a title seemingly designed as bait for critics of “cultural appropriation.” While initially received with some skepticism, Malone’s innocent, fun-loving persona and knack for crafting catchy tunes quickly won him a dedicated fanbase. According to legend, Malone met Justin Bieber, chugged a beer with him, and was invited a few months later to tour with the Biebs himself. In late 2016 Malone released his debut album “Stony.” Next up was Malone’s single, “Rockstar,” which made it to number one on the Billboard Top 100 and in a flash he became one of the most streamed artists in the world. Now, he’s released his second full-length, “Beerbongs & Bentleys,” accompanied by the Mass Appeal documentary, “Post Malone Is a Rockstar.”
Lines like, “I wake up, rinse my mouth with fuckin’ codeine,” from “Zack and Codeine,” and, “Saint Laurent, 40, on a new suit,” from “Takin’ Shots,” neatly encapsulate the bulk of the subject matter here. It’s precisely what you would expect from an album titled “Beerbongs & Bentleys.” However, a considerable portion of the album also explores the jaded mentality that typically follows a steep rise to fame. In “Paranoid,” Malone sings about everyone being after his money. “Rich & Sad” is a hip-hop take on the same sentiment memorialized in the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Several songs also explore the difficulties of sustaining a relationship when constantly in the spotlight.
Malone is often classified as a rapper, but this is hardly an accurate description. After all, “rapping” is speaking percussively, and Malone does not devote a single second of his new album to this. Instead, he sings the entire time. He packs his syllables into lines in a way typical of rappers who dabble in singing do. But whereas these rappers intersperse their melodies with actual rapping, Malone sticks exclusively to the singing in Auto-Tune. The rise of Auto-Tune has had a peculiar effect on vocals. The treatment morphs lines into unnatural intonations, and the ubiquity of such treatment has made these odd resulting melodies readily recognizable. Artists like Malone write their hooks with such Auto-Tune-inspired tunings as a starting point, and, in turn, feed their compositions back into Auto-Tune, in a feedback loop that makes for some rather otherworldly sounds. Malone is an expert at coming up with catchy hooks. Every single song on his new record is instantly infectious. Whether they’re your cup of tea or not, they’ll surely stick in your head, just as the hit single, “Rockstar” probably already has. In fact, they might stick in your head too much. In the maddening “Candy Paint,” Malone repeats the same five-note melody over and over again for nearly three minutes. It’s a new achievement in minimalism.
The production is clean and crisp, drawing from a limited sound palette, furnishing the tracks sparsely, and leaving them open and uncluttered. The drums are crafted around enough trap cliches to establish the associated groove, with hiccuping snares and multiple high hat lines panned slickly. It’s a consistently cheery affair, all major chords, bright and bubbly sound design, candy-coated, and syrup soaked. If one were pressed to come up with an accurate caption to the album, a long string of emojis would suffice. Or as another option, paste this review into a text-to-speech converter, and add autotune.
Album highlights include “Stay,” which showcases Malone straying into more singer-songwriter territory, with acoustic guitar, and hip-hop sensibility a few levels removed. It’s a becoming sound, which shows off his songwriting chops, and would be worthy of further exploration in successive work. “Same Bitches (ft. G-Eazy & YG)” is a west coast-style banger, simultaneously hard-hitting and laid back. “Ball for Me” is a colorful, funky track, with guest vocals from Nicki Minaj, that displays a remarkable creative chemistry. And then, of course, there’s the indelible “Rockstar,” finally making its way into an album.
Clearly, this style of hip-hop music isn’t meant to be taken seriously — it couldn’t possibly be, could it? Sure, it seems to be presented without the least trace of irony, 100% sincere, but this must merely bear testament to the excellence of the performers’ deadpan delivery, and their truly impressive ability to never break character. How exactly this style ever came about remains a mystery. Perhaps it began as some artist’s or record executive’s idea of a joke, but caught on so widely that it became the norm. This is a totally conceivable explanation, as America has a proud longstanding history of dreaming up and marketing products of a genius novelty unparalleled anywhere else. We brought you the pet rock, the Twinkie, and now — Post Malone.
“Beerbongs & Bentleys” is available April 27 on Apple Music.