Madison Beer’s bittersweet ‘Life Support’ manages to prevail with bravery

Photo of Madison Beer album cover
Epic Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

Content warning: self-harm

It’s been three long years since Madison Beer dropped her EP As She Pleases, a bold record with just enough personality to feel effortlessly fun. Now on the verge of turning 22, Beer is tackling more poignant and personal subjects in her full-length, debut album Life Support. But despite her spirited authenticity, muddled production missteps prevent the album from reaching its full potential.

Beer isn’t trying to find herself on Life Support — she’s sustaining her well-being. The album is aptly titled; Beer fades in and out of focus like a shuddering last breath. Some songs signal a teetering instability while others solidify strength with gallant remarks. From wallowing in heartbreak to reflecting on her mental health, each song is drenched with a bitter honesty that Beer only touched on shallowly in her past work.

Beer’s often ambitious songwriting on Life Support suggests significant promise, but its depth isn’t consistently reflected by the album’s distracting production. It chips away at the refreshing qualities of her sincerity and bravery, making what could have been transformative into something much more mundane.

“Sour Times,” an inspired but disorderly track, exemplifies this flaw; elsewhere, the textured production of “Stained Glass” doesn’t match Beer’s tearful delivery or the natural warble of her voice. “Follow The White Rabbit,” inspired by “The Matrix,” thrills in all the wrong ways; it feels like a forgettable song from an action movie trailer, produced to be used and discarded for its shock value. She invites listeners to “Follow the white rabbit to see the truth,” but any truth to this lyric is overshadowed by monotony.

Luckily, Beer prioritizes candor more in other tracks. The artist, who has anxiety and borderline personality disorder, makes it clear why her album is called Life Support: She criticizes victim-blaming with the emotional “Stay Numb And Carry On,” and she discusses self-harm in the tantalizing “Effortlessly.” Unfurling as a gentle epiphany about self-destructive love, “Selfish” concludes with a telling, regretful sigh. In “Emotional Bruises,” Beer pleads “For the first time, let this be the last” as if to speak the end of an abusive relationship into existence. She shares her truth in these realizations and reflections, and though she falters on some forgettable tracks, she unveils tragic beauty in the depths of these vulnerable songs.

Perhaps most notably, Beer faces the truth about an ill-fated relationship in “Blue.” At its chorus, her gentle voice transcends into a breathy wail reminiscent of Lana Del Rey, and she sorrowfully declares that “I know when to run, run, run/ When my makeup does.” Beer’s words woefully spill and slur, and though the song is temporarily dampened by a distracting chorus beat, “Blue” remains a highlight.

After this series of darker songs, it’s a relief when Beer’s upbeat confidence makes a reappearance in her more traditional pop tracks. Deeper synths help carry Beer’s vocals to the forefront, but while these songs find strength in her voice’s lower range, they tend to grow a tad tiresome. Emphasized epistrophe on the radio-ready “Boyshit” can only take the track so far, and in “Baby,” Beer sings her kicker “Keep you comin’ back for more” more drearily than seductively.

Beer’s creative vision is better represented by her more unorthodox tracks. “The Beginning” is a dramatic catharsis of sorts, sporting similarities to Ariana Grande’s Sweetener opener “Raindrops (An Angel Cried).” Later, Beer quietly but assertively declares that “I’m not for you” in her two-minute, synth-ridden interlude. Beer concludes Life Support with an alloy of abrupt sound bites and television static interruptions: a tangle of past, present and future. Her album isn’t merely a condemnation, nor is it exactly an epiphany; rather, it’s a thoughtful processing of her past struggles. It’s a persevering preservation of Beer’s former self.

Life Support might also serve as a farewell to her past. Its final track features her uncontained excitement recording her 2019 single “Dear Society,” and interspersed with applause, the song fades with chords reminiscent of Beer’s 2018 classic “Teenager In Love” — a final, fleeting reminder that Beer has indeed come a long way since being a teenager in love.

Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].