wed 27/10/2021

Album: Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever

Album: Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever

Fame is the fuel for a teenage mega-star's leap into maturity

Billie Eilish was shot through fame’s looking glass with increasing force right through her teens.

girl’s hopeful artistic dreams exposed her to infinite judgement of her body and soul, social and mass media magnifying every blemish and stumble. This sequel to her 2019 debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? transmutes the disorientation into a kaleidoscopic consideration of this self-described “trauma”: the crafted meta-autobiography of an adolescent mega-star. Rather than a cry for help in the Cobain meltdown mode that its lyrics suggest, it’s a 19-year-old’s sophisticated growth-spurt, shutting out stardom’s white noise to grasp and hone artistic purpose.

“I think I’m aging well,” she decides on opener “Getting Older”, before confessing: “I realise I crave pity when I tell a story.” Happier Than Ever’s title may drip with irony, written in the eye of the buffeting storm of realised dreams. But she's also grateful for such good material, processed with her faithful brother and co-writer/producer Finneas O’Connell in their home basement studio, an even more private, personal, self-conscious process than before.

Eilish’s Bond theme, released into Covid’s black hole sans film, was that of a murmuring anti-Bassey, steeped in Peggy Lee, Sinatra and Astrud Gilberto. Now she takes the latter’s gossamer lilt on “The Girl From Ipanema” as her totem. “Billie Bossa Nova” similarly floats, but isn’t the best example of her ongoing exploration of the exasperating sigh, her voice turning inwards, every lacerating line at the point of evaporation. These are guttering torch songs, for a generation flinching from definition.

“Getting Older” sets out fame’s ironic rewards: “These strangers seem to want me more than anyone before/Too bad they’re mostly deranged.” And, as if weary of work that’s hardly started: “Things I once enjoyed/Now just keep me employed.”

Reasserting pleasure in her muse is one hopeful undertone in the litany of premature ennui that follows, showing tireless creativity at every turn. “Halley’s Comet” is a wry, beautifully wrought ballad in the lineage of her post-war models. The titular cosmic visitor “comes around more than I do,” she sighs, with wit winking at Cole Porter, over slow-motion keyboard and glam guitar. “I’m sitting in my brother’s room,” a coda of smashing distortion adds, the classic construct crashing into post-modern chaos.

“Not My Responsibility” follows, its woozy, sticky electro-pop like a hall of mirrors as she realises that “nothing I do goes unseen” in the digital world's judgemental court. “Would you like me to be quiet?” she asks, in a husky voice anyway rarely raised, resisting opinions “about my body” and style. Eilish knows this bullying is only separated by degree from every other, particularly female teenager. Elsewhere, she explores sex, tentative relationships, clubland sounds and experiences, till the Radiohead-like title song explodes into cleansing, roaring rock, and “Male Fantasy” finally unleashes her voice. If Billie can get through this shit, she’s letting her legion of girl fans know, so can you.

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