The second album from internet darling Halsey, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, takes the cinematic scope and storytelling seen on her first album and cranks it to the absolute maximum. A comic book-inspired sci-fi reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, set in the same world as Halsey’s debut album Badlands, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom’s tracks oscillate between late-night confessionals and pop bangers.
“The Prologue” opens up the album with a slightly tweaked version of the prologue from Romeo and Juliet, introducing listeners to the (literal) star-crossed lovers who inhabit the world and their rival houses that cause the story’s conflict. As a song, most people probably won’t choose to include “The Prologue” on any kind of playlist. As a scene-setter, it gets at the album’s ideas well enough, but it fails to introduce the ambitious storytelling that "Hopeless Fountain Kingdom" seems to be striving toward.
According to Halsey’s Twitter account, the two lovers at the center of the story are named Luna and Solis. You’d never know that just from listening to the album, though. You can get down to the glitzy, '80s inspired “Strangers” or the stripped-down piano ballad “Sorry” without knowing the backstory that the songs are supposedly about, and really you won’t be missing much, but it’s a shame that the high-minded story ideas circling the album never really make it into the music.
The cinematic style of the album carries throughout, even if the grandiose story it’s trying to convey never really materializes. Spoken word sections dot the tracks, such as the somber first track “The Prologue” or the child’s voice that opens “Good Mourning” with more Romeo and Juliet references. “Walls Could Talk” — with its dramatic string flourishes and Britney Spears-like production — feels like it could perfectly soundtrack the masquerade ball scene from Fifty Shades Darker.
Halsey has never been shy about how big of an influence cinema has been on her music, which spins tales fit for young adult science fiction — her video for “New Americana,” for example, takes the anthemic pop song and plays it over a dystopian scene of straight out of The Hunger Games or The 100.
While Halsey has always been a dramatic storyteller, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom seems to be trying to have it both ways this time around: radio-friendly pop hits with a complex backstory to flesh out the lyrics. The problem is that the “concept” of this concept album is nowhere to be found in the actual music. If you buy the wrong version of the album, you may not even get the songs in the correct order for the story. What’s left is a solid pop album filled with glamorous synths and romantic lyrics that feels like it’s trying to be more than it is.
By the time you get to album closer “Hopeless" (Ft. Cashmere Cat) its clear the relationship at the center of the album has ended, but whether that’s through a breakup or a poisonous kiss is never quite clear. Which, hey, maybe that’s the point. But if it weren’t for the extensive write-ups on Genius about the saga of Luna and Solis, or the over-the-top video for single “Now or Never” that stops the track multiple times for scenes of dialogue, the listener would have no idea there was more going on with the album’s story.
As a pop record, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is a solid collection of possible radio hits and trailer music for CW shows. As a concept album, it leaves a lot to be desired.