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REVIEW: Billie Eilish – ‘Happier Than Ever’ (Darkroom / Interscope)


In a sentence:

Bringing out different textures in her sound, Billie Eilish’s songwriting and production is as sharp as ever on second album ‘Happier Than Ever’.

Billie Eilish was always renowned for her stern, unwavering self-conviction, hard work and talent. Going viral with ‘Ocean Eyes’ at only 15, she’s been in the industry for four years now, receiving numerous Grammys and accolades following 2019’s debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. And yet, her sophomore effort Happier Than Ever shows even more growth. Whilst the sound is less electronic, contrary to expectations, Eilish’s lyrics are as cutting as ever, and the mix of acoustic instruments with elevated vocals and production (courtesy of her brother FINNEAS) stands as yet another testament of her brilliance as a songwriter.

Happier Than Ever is not an easy listen. Taking in the hints of abuse and trauma experienced by Billie, it’s a dark picture one puts together, whether confirmed or not. On the other hand, the album is called Happier Than Ever, and that’s the message Eilish seems to send her audience – that you can have autonomy, can be by yourself, don’t need a partner to validate you. That’s the duality of the record: the healing from trauma – a cautionary tale of the experiences of many women with predatory behaviour from older men, sudden fame, and the send-off of an old(er) lover.

‘Getting Older’, the opener, sets off the narrative and asserts the album’s sound – it’s soft in instrumentation, for the most part, but not in its words, which seems to be the case for most of the record. On the track, Billie considers how getting older has changed her, and how her foresight about her current employment (musicianship) can change, her hard passions turning to indifference simply due to time passing. ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’ growls with distortion at first, then launches into more of a signature Billie groove with its rhythmic synths and attitude. The ‘Billie Bossa Nova’ is a wonderful surprise – a genuine bossa nova beat on a Billie Eilish record, flaunting her breathy voice and warm timbre, something we might not have expected, but appreciate, nonetheless. ‘my future’, the first single off the record with a wonderful sentiment of being infatuated with one’s future, now sounds more at home in the context of the whole album, even if at first it seemed quite the pace change for the previously dark, heavy in stylized production Eilish discography.

There are more expected sounds as well. ‘Oxytocin’ is sure to be a crowd favourite when Eilish returns to live performance, same as the second half of ‘GOLDWING’, a track that houses both the catholic choral and the more horror-like electronic pop of Eilish’s previous releases. ‘Happier Than Ever’ has a similar deceiving quality – starting as a lullaby-like tune it explodes into a cathartic screamathon, releasing tension from within the track and the whole record. It seems to be the one time on the record where Eilish loses control, releasing anger and resentment, as for the most part she sounds put together and thoughtful, carefully choosing her words as she believes in their importance and understands their power, and influence, on her audience.

Happier Than Ever is very much a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It tricks the listener with its softer acoustic quality into exploring complicated topics. Eilish discusses power imbalance, predatory behaviour, the overly intrusive nature of even the most well-meaning audiences and her reckoning with her aging, her sexuality, her public presence and scrutiny, and relationships above all. She has a level-headed approach to most of it, which seems to contribute to her perception as an ‘old soul’, something meant as a genuine compliment sometimes, and something used as a tool to trick young girls in participating in something they don’t quite fully understand other times, and Eilish seems to understand this quite well. She is still only 19, after all, and putting Eilish onto some special category of maturity as a young woman brings many problems, the oversexualisation being just one of them.

Nonetheless, she’s an excellent songwriter, her and her brother being a true dynamic duo when it comes to writing fresh sounding, impactful pop that resonates with millions, and all the tracks on Happier Than Ever prove that. Maybe the soft quality of some of the tracks might disappoint some, but as a lyricist and vocalist Billie brings her best yet. And as someone put so well some time ago, leave Billie alone. (8/10) (Aiste Samuchovaite)

Listen to Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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