Billie Eilish
Happier Than Ever


4.3
superb

Review

by Simon K. STAFF
July 30th, 2021 | 446 replies


Release Date: 07/30/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A daring risk that pays off massively.

High expectations mixed with bloated hype can be a deathly combination for the latest hot-mainstream-artist under the spotlight. As it happens, this unfortunate blend has begun to manifest itself around Billie Eilish’s adolescent career. Stack that pressure on top of delivering a good sophomore album and this could well make or break Billie’s trajectory forever. Before we delve into whether Eilish overcame the incredible odds, it’s important to talk about the mass hysteria and nuclear adulation When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? received back in 2019. At the tender age of seventeen years old, Eilish’s debut album didn’t so much infiltrate popular culture as it did wage a full-frontal assault on it. If you managed to evade “Bad Guy” at the time of its release, you must have done so either by living on an island like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, or by ejecting yourself into space to have avoided the industry’s attempts at getting you to hum the damn thing in your sleep. The song was everywhere, and the irony is not lost on me with that last part either – themes that is, pertaining to When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which centre around dreams and where the human consciousness wanders off to when we sleep. For a pop artist, she had a relatively nihilistic presentation to her music, something that separated itself from her peers and was a distinction I’d normally gravitate towards. However, when something is partnered up with the level of unreasoning hype it received, having it smothered in your face at every turn, it’s easy to overlook and pass off the album’s – and by association the artist’s – inimitable qualities as being fleeting fads.

Regardless of any excuses, I would be somewhat understating my position on When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? at the time if I said I was rather underwhelmed by it. When I did penetrate the outer wall to all the fervent hullabaloo surrounding the record – in an attempt to form my own coherent opinion on it – I found it to be as meaningful and cogent as a night on the cheese before bed; waking up afterwards trying to assimilate the meaning behind a bunch of mad and arbitrary dreams I’d just had. “What do they all mean?!” Well, the chances are they don’t mean squat, son, it’s just the cheese talking. Over time though, as the hype died down, I managed to appreciate the album a lot more, albeit with the aforementioned issues still firmly intact. Indeed, there’s a lot of meaningless folly on When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, a lot of songs that don’t mesh well together, but its flawless production and Billie’s whispered vocal approach sets up a mood that gets right inside your head (especially with headphones on *recommended*) and authenticates the dark, dreamesque quality being ran with for the LP. Couple that with some solid, groove-centric numbers and the album has some very worthwhile merits that I initially overlooked on release.

One of the reasons I went back to When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in the first place was because in 2020, my overall view on Billy Eilish had changed with one song. Her fantastic James Bond theme for the new film, the eponymous “No Time to Die” track, was both mature and emotive, backed by a hair-raising orchestra whilst retaining a surprising amount of fidelity for what had made her such a success in the past. As such, with this new pasture being presented to me, I was tentatively hopeful for Happier Than Ever and judging from the singles leading up to its release, I could see a shift in gambit that I whole-heartedly embraced. Nevertheless, I’m self-aware enough to know that my opinion opposes a good majority of her enthusiastic fans. Fans that embrace her eccentric aesthetics, Manson-esque music videos and goofy, esoteric humour. It’s also a weird one as well, since such a small amount of time has passed since When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. The encouraging album title, the bright, beige austerity cocooning the artwork, and the folk-y “Your Power” single suggested a precursor that sheds the childish energy surrounding her debut record – all of which was transitioned so abruptly in the space of two years.

So, I guess it goes without saying that, potentially, Eilish is running the risk of betraying her kooky sensibilities for a sophisticated comportment, in the midst of delivering a more conformist sound in the realm of pop and alienating everything that made her stand out last time around. And in a lot of ways, she has braved the risks and done just that. I had a feeling the album title and artwork were obvious jabs at irony, and that was confirmed pretty earnestly in the opening track, “Getting Older”, where Eilish laments she’s trying to be positive at a time where she finds herself in the throes of adulthood. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful track that dives deep into her wants, needs, and how people change over time. It’s an appropriate opener that also lightly touches on the aftermath of her debut album, laying out lyrical passages like “Things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now”. In fact, the entire album has a surprising amount of depth and leans towards the psychological; introspection projected through her nasally croons, as well as dissecting social pressures – what to wear and how to act.

My suspicions on where Eilish was heading with this album were cautiously placed. All of the signs were there, but I was bracing myself for a subversive experience in spite of my confidence. The shock, ironically, actually came from how unabashedly transparent it is. Indeed, only two years have passed since When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, but goddamn does it feel night and day in comparison to her 2019 effort: authentic, organically mature, and an absolute joy to sit through. In a lot of ways, Happier Than Ever feels like the kind of project George Michael would have pulled out of the bag in the nineties. It has that slick bossa nova style to it; style as well as substance. To the surprise of no one, the production is as incredible as last time, being subtle, dynamic and malleable for any given situation. There’s plenty of styles to be enjoyed here, but it feels far more reined in than last time and for that, it may well turn off fans that loved her last effort. Generally, Happier Than Ever creeps around with a slow-burning psychedelic ambience, a masterstroke that omits the extravagant flair and odd flavours for ideas that feel almost vanilla in comparison.

This will be a deal-breaker for many, I suspect. If you’re someone like me who really vibed off of the Bond track and saw a really engaging avenue for Eilish to venture down with future works, you’ll really enjoy the ride. Any of the flaws I found with When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, they’ve been fixed here. Of course, in “fixing” those issues, some may argue she’s removed some of her core identity. Personally, I think there’s so much more to tuck into here; there’s a lot more replayability, depth, and consistency present throughout. Couple that with the excellent production and Eilish’s fantastic vocal work, which feels far more diverse and melodically driven, and this is the obvious winner. Happier Than Ever is an intimate project: trading off gaudy, angsty teen-attitude and a jarring dichotomy of styles for a much more grown up, sombre and focused collection of songs. There are little nuggets of her past dotted around in songs, but for the most part, it feels as though the fame has made her grow up at an exponential rate. The results are daring, but she’s succeeded in making the best pop album of 2021, thus far.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
DadKungFu
July 30th 2021


1293 Comments


"A daring risk" XD

SteakByrnes
July 30th 2021


25092 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Almost done with my first spin of the album and I dig it quite a bit

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GarthAlgar
July 30th 2021


697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

God all these man babies 1’ing this. Grow up.

brainmelter
July 30th 2021


7580 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yea seriously, this is better than new lantlos

Digging: Flaming Ouroboros - Uphold the Majesty

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
July 30th 2021


45800 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

fantastic writeup Simon



the first album's good but I liked her singles last year way more. everything I wanted and when I was older are my favourite songs she's done but the Bond theme is solid too. if this follows in that style I'm down

Digging: Lil Ugly Mane - VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY AND THE VOICED CONCERN

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
July 30th 2021


9160 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

ok, i def really don't care about her style

Digging: Grouper - Shade

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
July 30th 2021


11612 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Really liking this so far, but then again, I was also a big fan of her first record. Awesome review, Simon

TheSpirit
July 30th 2021


28528 Comments


no doubt in my mind that this is boring af

Digging: Gonemage - Sudden Deluge

Ryus
July 30th 2021


25796 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

better than the debut

Digging: RP Boo - Established!

Mythodea
July 30th 2021


6800 Comments


I'm glad this review is so positive. I admire Eilish's work (the sparse songs I've checked out), and I'm glad there's meat to be found in her new album. Listening to it rn.

JayEnder
July 30th 2021


11370 Comments


"yea seriously, this is better than new lantlos"

no lol


Digging: Vildhjarta - Msstaden Under Vatten

vult
July 30th 2021


549 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Not bad, but I dont really get the hype. It’s pretty boring and one note, no? Daring would be if she actually attempted to deviate from her usual whispery vocal inflection and backing music.



Oxytocin is awful though.

anarchistfish
July 30th 2021


29414 Comments


What happened to the 1/5 review

Nvm must have imagined it

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parksungjoon
July 30th 2021


37835 Comments


anarchist go here

Digging: Slint - Tweez

WatchItExplode
July 30th 2021


9344 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Consistent and very solid album.

Digging: She Said Destroy - Succession

DarkNoctus
July 30th 2021


11632 Comments


does she feel like a room without a roof

:]

[:

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
July 30th 2021


11612 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

:]

SteakByrnes
July 30th 2021


25092 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

-w-

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
July 30th 2021


11612 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

>:]

parksungjoon
July 30th 2021


37835 Comments


desist



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