Being happier than ever
11 August 2021-
Pop phenomenon Billie Eilish is back with a second album, Happier Than Ever, which naturally shot straight to #1 on the charts. Naturally?
Just take a moment to think about this: at the tender age of 19, Miss Eilish is already a generational musical reference. The sheer impact of her debut album, 2019’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, almost single-handedly redefined contemporary (electro-)pop music. Well, not entirely single-handedly: Billie Eilish‘s older brother, musician and composer extraordinaire Finneas, definitely helped. The point is this: the pair of siblings managed to create a bona fide musical gem on their (near) first try. Now what?
Sophomore releases are an artist’ nightmare on a normal day. Imagine when the predecessor is aforementioned When We All Fall Asleep: where do you go from there? Can you revolutionize music twice in just as many years? Not even Quincy Jones could achieve such a feat. Do more of the same? Billie and Finneas are way too smart for that. What then? Make a doo-wop album? Sorta, kinda: not that Happier Than Ever sounds in any way, shape or form like a 1950’s revival effort, but it does sound less timely. Probably quite intentionally: the pair must have figured out that the best way forward was sideways.
And by that we mean — this album retains the sonic subtlety of the first one: not a single note, drum beat or vocal bar ever feels gratuitous. However, it sounds less cutting edge, if you will: instead of the already minimalistic technical musings of When We All Fall Asleep, this album is perhaps even more minimalistic, albeit in a more organic manner. Put (more) simply, Happier Than Ever feels more intimate than its predecessor. Which, again, is quite a remarkable achievement given the stature Eilish has already reached in her young yet storied career. Tracks like “Getting Older”, “Halley’s Comet” or the rather straightforward “Not My Responsibility” all show this incredible openness and maturity, presented in wonderfully well crafted song format.
Then, you have the more laid back and/or contemplative moments in there: “Lost Cause” (on the laid back side of things), “Your Power” (on the contemplative end of the spectrum) and the perfect title track, which aptly starts fully acoustically (in the most direct nod to retro sounding production you will find on this album) to then switch into brilliantly controlled guitar saturation. Olivia Rodrigo, take note… All in all, Happier Than Ever may just be the best possible second album Eilish (and Finneas) could ever come up with: different, yet not overly disruptive; more mature, yet honest; and definitely equally addictive…