Billie Eilish's Second Album 'Happier Than Ever' Is A Delicate, Defiant Follow-Up
The album sees her tackle abuses of power in relationships, her lyrics pungent, her vocals layered in shimmering harmonies
Has there ever been such fevered anticipation for an album of navel-gazing introspection that comes wrapped in a veil of misery, depression and deep, unwavering self-absorption?
Billie Eilish is such a curious pop superstar, a teenage tyro who conquered the world with whispery vocals and subdued micro-beats, softly singing about the trials of being a sensitive soul in brutal times.
Her sweet melodies and introspective lyrics are set to a digital production so understated you almost feel like you have to press your ear closer to the speaker to catch everything she’s murmuring.
It is not big, banging pop purpose-built to blare out of giant speakers in frantic nightclubs. This is the sound of a tortured teen alone in her bedroom late at night, broadcasting to like-minded souls with a quiet force that cuts through the static of their over-saturated world.
Eilish was signed at 15, and by the time she was 17 she was number one everywhere with debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Now at the ripe old age of 19, she asserts in her lovingly crafted follow up that she is Happier Than Ever, while the ironic cover depicts Eilish as a sad starlet with tear-stained cheeks.
“Things I once enjoyed / Just keep me employed” she croons on opening track, Getting Older, a lament about the state of her life, which it turns out has not been much improved by fame and fortune: “Had some trauma / Did things I didn’t wanna / Was too afraid to tell ya / But now I think it’s time.”
Eilish’s quotably pithy lyrics revolve around abuses of power in social and sexual relationships, with a steadfast defence of the vulnerable and pugnacious feminist sideswipes at the egotistical male gaze.
“The body I was born with / Is it not what you wanted?” Eilish gravely demands on Not My Responsibility, an electro throb which morphs seductively into the armchair-techno of Over Heated (“I didn’t get surgery to help out / Cause I’m not about to redesign myself, am I?”).
The sadness implicit in drowsy ballads Everybody Dies, Halley’s Comet and Male Fantasy is counterbalanced with a f***-you spikiness that ensures Eilish never comes across as a victim. “When I’m away from you / I’m happier than ever” she sings on the title track, one of the rare moments where she breaks her signature mood of dreamy torpor and raises her voice. With fuzzy rock guitars and a hard snare drum, it actually threatens to get rowdy enough to be heard outside her closed bedroom door.
Co-writing and production duties are once again astutely handled by older brother, Finneas O’Connell. Their elegantly formed songs have two tempos (slow and mid) and three modes — acoustic ballad, light soul groove and pulsing electro beat – across which her delicate vocals are stacked in layers of shimmering harmony.
Yet there is such confidence in the way they assemble these minimalist elements that little details can resound with exaggerated impact, like the way break-up song I Didn’t Change My Number actually breaks up into sonic fragments as it reaches its bitter end.
The 16-song set flows beautifully, carrying listeners on an emotional journey in which surprising musical twists and glittering barbs of lyrical empowerment cast optimistic light on a long dark night of Billie’s tortured soul.
– The Daily Telegraph