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Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever

September 7, 2021
Indie record store brown vinyl edition

Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go was such a huge success that a sophomore slump is inevitable. My hot take is that Happier Than Ever is better. It does not have the killer singles of its predecessor, but it holds together better as an album. Granted I am more of an album guy then a singles guy, so this aesthetic choice appeals to my biases.

The sound has progressed. On their debut EP, dont smile at me, the band (I consider Billie Eilish a band given the significance of brother Finneas’s contribution) was innocent bedroom pop. On When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go the sound and lyrics went dark – almost Nine Inch Nails lite. On Happier Than Ever the sound is more diverse from track to track: trip hop, folky, jazzy, industrial lite, etc. It it all sounds thicker and more crafted. I assume they are just getting more confident as a band and have access to better tools. Billie’s vocals are more confident and expressive – almost a croon. Listening to her older material that crooner has always been there, it is just more obvious now.

Lyrically the album focuses on the trials and tribulations of being a pop superstar. Normally I would find this annoying, but Billie is a fascinating pop superstar and so I am plenty interested to get in her head to witness how she is processing it all.

The album is quiet, which draws you in more. Like all her work it is weird, but as weird as it is, it is highly accessible.

I love the rebranding of her look from bratty goth hip hop teenager to old Hollywood glamour. It is a symbol of the maturity of the music.

In summary: no sophomore slump, no difficult second album, no When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go Volume Two, but instead an appropriate step forward. Most of all an enjoyable listen that grows on you. As to whether it will maintain Billie’s trajectory as a pop star? Probably not – more likely a plateau. But being a mega pop star is not necessarily a noble goal. Making great music is a noble goal and Billie has achieved that.

Interesting fun fact: Per New York Times the album had great physical sales in week one:

Released in an array of boxed sets and retail-exclusive variants, “Happier Than Ever” made 54 percent of its total sales in the United States on physical formats, including 73,000 vinyl LPs, 46,000 CDs and nearly 10,000 on cassette. It had the second-highest weekly vinyl haul since at least 1991, when SoundScan, MRC Data’s predecessor, first began keeping accurate data on music sales. (Only Swift’s recent LP release of “Evermore,” which sold 102,000 copies after months of preorders, had more.)

I understand the vinyl sales. CDs? Do her fans really play music on CDs in a streaming age when the premium streaming services have better than CD quality streaming? I doubt it is audiophiles buying those CDs. Cassettes? That is even more of fetish object than vinyl – weird!

Don’t be deceived by these release week sales numbers that Billie has a follow up hit – they are inflated by preorders from hard core fans. The album is not a stiff, but it is unlikely to be the mega – hit that the last album was – that is OK. To repeat myself having repeated commercial success is not a goal – you can have a great career following your muse – just ask Norah Jones.

P.S. If you have access to Disney + check out Billie’s “concert.” More of a long form video than a concert film. For me it added a new textures and context to the album and made me appreciate it even more.

From → Music Reviews

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