fri 15/10/2021

Album: Finneas - Optimist | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Finneas - Optimist

Album: Finneas - Optimist

Brother and collaborator of one of the biggest stars on earth steps out on his own

Stepping out of the shadows: Finneas O'Connell marks out a creative path of his own

This record is a heck of a metatextual experience to listen to. In releasing his debut album, 24 year old Finneas O’Connell is attempting to step out of the shadow of one of the biggest pop cultural behemoths of our time – his own sister, Billie Eilish, who he also writes and produces for – and mark out a creative lane of his own.

And he’s documenting this in many of these songs, which touch repeatedly on his experience of fame, struggles with identity and the like.

Struggles-of-success narratives (and make no mistake: as Billie ticks inexorably towards 100 billion streams, her brother is definitely experiencing success) can be pretty wearing. Yet Finneas manages to navigate the territory with a considerable amount of charm, helped by the fact that he’s a consummate pop writer. Lines like “So take a drive around town in my douchebag car / like the superstar / that I pretend to be” and “with everyone talking about you / you won’t remember who you are” in “Happy Now” both sit comfortably in the song, and have a ring of truth about them. 

The writing is world class right through the album. Lines like “What’s a life without the consequences? / What’s a knife without the sharpened edges?” have the perfect balance of simplicity and nagging memorability that show someone really cares about the form. And particularly in the ballads – “Only a Lifetime”, “Someone Else’s Star”, and above all “Love is Pain” which has potential standard written all over it – Finneas links the personal and the universal, the micro and the macro, with often devastating skill. 

The melodies are strong too, just occasionally meandering but never forgettable. The downfall, though, is stylistic. Where Billie’s ASMR voice and goth teen presence draw threads together into a clear identity, Finneas struggles. His voice, both literal and figurative, isn’t entirely his own. So there’s those dead-straight ballads (albeit with some intriguing subliminal sounds), there’s a cabaret archness in the early tracks, there’s electropop sizzle, there’s occasional (less successful) grunge growl, there’s a standard indie rock chug – “What They’ll Say About Us” is the best Coldplay song in many years, for example – but there’s not a single aesthetic core to it.

And maybe that’s not bad: if the lyrics are as honest as they appear, Finneas is extremely reflective, and perhaps the faltering attempts to find his own identity hint at an artist capable of self-realisation over the long term. If he is – and if he is given the space to experiment outside of his star-maker machine functionality – then he certainly has the talent and personality to create something truly glorious. And if he understands that, then he’s entirely justified in being an Optimist.

@joemuggs

Hear “What They’ll Say About Us”:

His lyrics have the perfect balance of simplicity and nagging memorability that show someone really cares about the form

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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