Billie Eilish
Hit Me Hard and Soft


4.0
excellent

Review

by Shamus248 CONTRIBUTOR (120 Reviews)
June 7th, 2024 | 0 replies


Release Date: 05/17/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "The old me is still me."

When Billie Eilish first entered mainstream consciousness, with a whsiper and not a bang on purpose, I think I had the same feeling Red got when he first laid eyes on Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. "Stiff breeze" and all that; like she'd be gone as quickly as she came, define the era she came up in without transcending it. Her debut album When We All Fall Asleep... had an internal logic and job to do, sure. But it didn't assuage anyone's reservations about her being a figurehead for Gen Z's oft-disconcerting aestheticizing of depression and mental illness.

Hit Me Hard and Soft seems like the culmination of all the artistic brilliance underpinned in Billie's past discography. The hero's journey is never quite complete, of course, but it feels like Billie is comfortable and proud to be who she is and where she's at. She's still improving, as an artist and as a person, but even the most scant vestiges of self-doubt seem to be washed away. "Skinny", which tackles themes of self-love and body image, sees Billie embracing every side of herself; "the old me is still me and maybe the real me, and I think she's pretty," she plainly but not irresolutely proclaims. She's not afraid to show off her pipes, either. Billie's no doubt known for her thin, hushed vocal tendencies, but her broader range is glistening; her cascading vocal runs enhance this opening stanza.

Billie likes girls, too, and on "Lunch" she makes no bones about it. It can definitely be construed as a bit queerbaity (to a degree even Taylor Swift can't achieve), but I have no reason to believe Billie's being inauthentic, especially with her humorous quips on the bridge. Thumping bass lines color the dark pop romp "Chihiro." It's here that Billie leans into her alto. It tries to be angelic, but her vocal flourishes aren't as interesting as the composition itself, or her more reverb-coated bits during the song's middle section. "Birds of a Feather", however, vies for status as her best song ever. Keeping with the themes of personal, sexual and romantic liberation that have been loosely established to this point, Billie lets it all hang out here; "I'll love you 'til the day that I die..'Til the light leaves my eyes," she promises her partner. Backed by Finneas' glassy guitars, Andrew Marshall's sturdy drum fills, and some cool production, Billie's belts on the closing chorus are awesome, and add a further blip of poignancy to a dreamy and even tepidly moving ballad.

When we get to "The Greatest", I picture Billie retreating to the bathroom while her lover sleeps and looking in the mirror. She's not examining her body so much as her soul. She doesn't explicitly lament about the courtship being a one-sided affair, but she does call into question how her efforts in particular are contributing to the success of the relationship. The good news is, there's an understated triumph here; "Man, am I the greatest," she brags to herself, as if to imbue any despair or doubt with a healthy dose of self-affirmation, like she can ultimately live with the outcome when all is said and done. On "L'Amour De Ma Vie," she's bidding a last goodbye to an ex-muse who emotionally manipulated her, still mustering enough good will to wish them well. "I was the love of your life, but you were not mine," she almost reluctantly admits. Closing cut "Blue", as its title suggests, is all about colors. Ostensibly tying everything we've trekked through thus far together, Billie weaves a sundered epic profiling a weathered and worn protagonist, and the f*cked up family they come from. Like some other songs on the album, it's a tad bloated and bordering on a minutiae of over-self-importance compositionally, but it's on the whole a serviceable bookend to our adventure.

Hit Me Hard and Soft is pretty, breezy, cozy, and self-assured. Billie knows who she is, and never questions her worth or the amount of effort she puts in. I wouldn't say it's all about discovery; it seems she's already got her sh*t together. This is merely her first chance to flaunt it as emphatically as she can. She's no doubt struggled with her self-worth, her sexuality, and loving her body. But she's come at the other end, and she's not ashamed of who she used to be. Her growth and prior missteps inform the confident woman she is today. Her voice roars powerfully as much as it quivers softly. Her ability to oscillate between the two sensibilities while toying with a wide berth of avant-pop compositions only underscores her intelligence and capability as an artist. Not every single track is a grand slam home-run, but Hit Me Hard and Soft is arguably the pop album of 2024 so far, and one that solidifies me as a Billie Eilish fan all the way.



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