“I’m getting older,” sings Billie Eilish, who’s 19, on Happier Than Ever’s opening monitor. “I’ve received extra on my shoulders”, she provides, which is actually true. Her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, The place Do We Go? wasn’t simply an enormous world hit, however an album that considerably altered mainstream pop music. Two years on, streaming companies are clotted with bedroom-bound, teenage singer-songwriters dolefully depicting their lives: anticipation for what the real article does subsequent is understandably operating very excessive.
When We All Fall Asleep … was an album that turned common teenage traumas – romance, hedonism, friendship teams – into knowingly lurid horror-comic fantasies, during which tongues had been stapled, associates buried, hearses slept in and marble partitions spattered with blood. That playfulness is much less evident on its successor. It sparkles sometimes, as on Overheated’s exploration of stardom within the period of social media, full with loss of life threats (“You wanna kill me? You wanna damage me?” she mumbles, earlier than laughing: “Cease being flirty”) or on NDA, the place the “fairly boy” she entices house is required to signal the titular authorized settlement earlier than he leaves. However the total tone is noticeably extra sombre.
Your Energy and Getting Older each take care of sexual coercion – the previous explicitly, the latter extra obliquely – however the album’s major matter is fame and its detrimental influence on the particular person on the eye of the storm: stalkers lurk, relationships are ruined, privateness is invaded, an lack of ability to close off the babble of public opinion about each side of your private life performs havoc together with your psychological well being. The topic even seeps into the album’s love songs: on the title monitor, Eilish wonders if the thing of her affections has learn her interviews and panics about them revealing all on the web; My Future struggles to weigh up a romance towards the progress of her profession.
The music follows swimsuit. If its sonic template is broadly just like that of its predecessor – vocals that veer from mumbling and whispering to jazz-inflected singing however by no means lose a way of intimacy; electronics evidently combined to be listened to on headphones; the occasional shading of guitar or piano – its sound feels extra subdued, much less flashy. There are heaps of intelligent manufacturing touches – the backing of Goldwing loops its a capella intro, a form of lush, multi-tracked, straightforward listening studying of a verse from Hindu textual content the Rig Veda, in a approach that recollects a broadband connection glitching – and a pair of moments the place it decisively shifts away from Eilish’s earlier work, with combined outcomes: the self-explanatory Billie Bossa Nova seems like a jokey pastiche, however Oxytocin’s techno pulse, bursts of atonal synth and vocal that roughly dispenses with melody is admittedly gripping. However the closest it involves the sonic firework show of Bury a Buddy is the title monitor, which step by step builds from muffled, lo-fi acoustic ballad into an epic finale, multi-tracked vocals over drums and guitars drenched in a peculiar digital type of distortion that’s discomfiting and alienating moderately than heat and acquainted.
Listening to a pop star complaining about being a pop star is often enervating. It says one thing about Eilish’s ability as a songwriter that, in her palms, the subject feels genuinely affecting. It clearly doesn’t sound something like Black Sabbath or Nirvana, however there are moments when, spiritually not less than, Happier Than Ever seems like a Twenty first-century pop equal of the previous’s Sabotage or the latter’s In Utero, two albums that additionally succeeded in a portray a compellingly bleak however empathetic image of stardom. There’s one thing very lifelike about the way in which the righteous anger of each spoken phrase piece Not My Accountability and Overheated – “Is it information? Information to who?” – doesn’t fairly masks the damage of being judged “for trying identical to the remaining of you”, or the way in which the lyrics of Getting Older thrash round, leaping from gratitude for her success to horror on the depth of adulation and the load of expectation Eilish has attracted. You hearken to it and assume: yeah, I’d most likely really feel like that if I had been her.
It’s value noting that the songs up to now launched from Happier Than Ever have obtained a response muted sufficient for the singer to reply (“eat my mud,” she wrote on TikTok, “my tits are greater than yours”). Maybe that’s inevitable, given the music she’s made. It’s much less clearly ear-grabbing and fast than its predecessor, with lyrics that transfer away from immediately reflecting the lives of her teenage followers: there’s not a lot level in pretending you’re nonetheless identical to them once you’ve bought hundreds of thousands, sung a Bond theme and appeared on the quilt of Vogue wearing a custom-made Gucci corset.
However the truth that it’s a lower-key album than her debut shouldn’t distract from Happier Than Ever’s high quality. The melodies and vocals are uniformly nice; writing concerning the stress of fame in a approach that elicits a response aside from a yawn is a particularly powerful trick to drag off, and Happier Than Ever does it with aplomb. And listening to its grimmer lyrical moments, you marvel if an album that dials down her celeb barely can be such a nasty factor if Billie Eilish is in it for the lengthy haul, which Happier Than Ever strongly suggests she is.
This week Alexis listened to
Shibashi – All The Lights (ft Aoife Whenyoung)
A finely crafted dance-pop nugget, All of the Lights strikes the proper steadiness between melancholy and euphoria.