Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever, Album Review

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Billie stans beware. Although I loved Eilish’s debut, I don’t blindly praise every musical effort she releases. To me, Happier Than Ever got off to a less than compelling start. Lead single “my future” dropped over a year ago. And although it generally fits this vibe, it easily could’ve been left off. Across this album we hear a collection of relatively nondescript ballads focusing on the downfalls of fame and Internet commentary. In that sense, tracks like “Male Fantasy,” “Everybody Dies,” and “Halley’s Comet” essentially accomplish similar sonic goals and technically fit together. However, when grouped on the same tracklist, they overlap each other. Thus diminishing the overall value they’re able to bring as individual works of art. Some songs sound better as one-off singles than album filler tracks. Just my opinion, of course.

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Craig McDean for Vogue UK

I must say, though, the transition between “NDA” and “Therefore I Am” inserts some much needed excitement into the lineup. What I love most about Happier Than Ever is its creative misdirection. As today’s most influential pop artist, Billie could easily chase trends. Yet she refuses. I’ll always appreciate that about Ms. Eilish. “Not My Responsibility” stands as the lone track here that gripped me to my core. Her asmr confrontation of all her suitors, supporters, and body-shamers exudes artistic bravery of the highest degree. It feels like a purely intentional sonic experience. While Billie specializes in speaking from the heart, some of her songs lack a sonic ambition that parallels her pen. That’s not to say FINNEAS doesn’t do a good job. Because he most certainly does often times. This album has a crisp, professional sheen to it that is easy on the ears.

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Billie Eilish, 2021 / ICON

Conversely, some of the sound choices on Happier Than Ever pale in comparison to the siblings’ debut offering. Even though I can’t quite deem this record as a sophomore slump, it does disappoint me just a bit. The album’s first half comes and goes without making much of a lasting impression. Billie’s subdued delivery functions best, in my eyes, with experimental production and unique effects that help bring out her multi-faceted taste and personality. When her voice receives the complete share of the spotlight it’s still beautiful. Nevertheless, beauty isn’t everything. Personally I need a little more umph from these arrangements to return to them often. On first listen, this is a cohesive and partially diverse listening experience. Here Billie euro-steps others’ ideas about her life, body, and artistry.

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She’s young and navigating one of the most difficult celebrity lives to date. I applaud her strength and resilience on a human level. On a musical level, she’s supremely talented, insightful, mature, and authentic. All of these are qualities of an artist I can always get behind. Though on Happier Than Ever specifically, her talent makes a wonderful first impression. Yet with more listens the less I connected with the song structures and overall vibe of the record. More electronic tracks such as “I Didn’t Change My Number” and “Oxytocin” sound slightly awkward next to the type of stripped-back ballads that built her empire. The latter sounded like Pharrell tried to remix “bad guy” two years later. A handful of these tracks blend together. Which makes them fairly forgettable going forward in my view.

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Additionally, with about half a dozen singles released ahead of the album, little about Happier Than Ever feels brand-new or electrifying. This left me feeling like she made this album as more of a reaction to her celebrity than a decisive next step for her art. In the commercial pop world it’s tough to break free from expectations. Billie deserves praise for her defense of natural feminine expression. And this album represents that sentiment well. However, these songs tend to lack the earworm traits of her debut. The vintage overtones Happier Than Ever emits will play well with the Grammy community and most critics. For me, though, a single-digit tracklist would have beefed up the impact of this record. 16 tracks make this ride somewhat of a drag upon subsequent listens.

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Kelia Anne MacCluskey

Unfortunately, there isn’t a song here that I’m super crazy about. Despite this, I do appreciate the full, polished sound of the title track. It felt like the proper way to cap everything off. Yet “Male Fantasy” comes in with another guitar-laced ballad. Again, this is fine. She sounds good. But with similar-sounding track after similar-sounding track, I can’t help but become bored with Happier Than Ever as a whole. Her honesty, humility, and transparency lift her to the light. In spite of this, I hate to burst her stans’ bubbles but this album is not an instant classic. And that’s okay. Billie has enough pressure on her. This album functions as a heartfelt exhale. And, in that sense, I enjoy it. Yet I can’t sit here and pretend like it knocked my socks off for views or likability. Because it simply did not.

 

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Album Review: Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever
Production
7.4
Songwriting
7.5
Vocal Performance
6.2
PROS
Artistic Bravery
Transparent Lyrics
Complementary Production
CONS
Forgettable Passages
Limited Replay Value
Sonic Overlap
7
POSITIVE