Out Now: Billie Eilish Returns with Powerful, Subdued Sophomore Album, ‘Happier Than Ever’ (Listen)

Adrian GarroCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

Billie Eilish and her co-songwriter/producer/brother FINNEAS had an impossible task at hand — how to follow up a groundbreaking debut, 2019’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

The record made the singer a global phenomenon and smashed a previously unbreakable Grammy Award record with wins in all four of the General Field GRAMMY Awards — Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Some of its songs were inescapable, whether you sought them out or not.

Two years and a global pandemic later, Happier Than Ever landed on Friday, and it’s bound to be one of the year’s most successful records commercially … just don’t expect a carbon copy of When We All Fall Asleep.

Click here to pre-order Happier Than Ever on CD from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pre-order Happier Than Ever on 2-LP from our Rock Cellar Store

There’s a simmering darkness and uneasy energy behind some of the new tracks, like the pulsating “Oxytocin” (named after the “love hormone” associated with love and lust), which uses some of the similar breathy vocals and ominous production bumps bopping around in the periphery, with lyrics like this:

Can’t take it back once it’s been set in motion
You know I love to rub it in like lotion
If you only pray on Sunday, could you come my way on Monday?
‘Cause I like to do things God doesn’t approve of if She saw us

While pre-release single “Therefore I Am” is maybe the closest Eilish gets to the previous record’s sound:

But she and FINNEAS and the rest of the team have put together a uniquely different sonic experience this time, presumably in an effort to move forward and avoid the dreaded “sophomore jinx” of following up a smash-hit debut record. Finding the balance between revisiting familiar tropes and approaches and crafting something that isn’t “stale” can be a challenge, but it’s one Eilish and her crew nailed with this new record.

“Goldwing,” for example, starts with an angelic chorus of voices before picking up the pace midway. Thematically, Eilish has said of the song: “I wrote a song that is kinda a metaphor for a young woman especially in the street or life that is pure, and I don’t mean a virgin. I mean like a young, non-exploited, non-traumatized person.”

Goldwinged angel
Go home, don’t tell
Anyone what you are
You’re sacred and they’re starved
And their art is gettin’ dark
And there you are to tear apart
Tear apart, tear apart, tear apart

As her profile grew, Eilish attained more and more attention from all corners — including those who bristled at her unique fashion sense and, as is all too frequently the case with female entertainers, criticized her body. That prompted a short film from Eilish that aired at her concerts, “Not My Responsibility,” a rejection of their complaints and a message of confidence, defiance, and a message of body positivity in the face of sexism and body-shaming.

The composition is included on the record, as well.

“Everybody Dies” is more melancholy reflection from Billie Eilish, but its approach isn’t of the loud, percussive variety — instead, its midtempo approach helps the track serve as one of the most affecting on the album:

You oughta know
That even when it’s time, you might not wanna go
But it’s okay to cry and it’s alright to fall
But you are not alone

The build-up to Happier Than Ever implied that there would be some curveballs this time, most notably with the soaring acoustic ballad “Your Power,” one of the pre-release singles that showcase s a different side to the Eilish/FINNEAS creative team:

At 16 tracks, Happier Than Ever packs quite a punch in its nearly hourlong runtime, its final two songs an especially dramatic sendoff. The title track, a musically gentile but lyrically pointed track Eilish called “probably the most therapeutic song I’ve ever written or recorded”:

The album comes to a close with “Male Fantasy,” another acoustic song, this time Eilish lamenting a bout of recent heartbreak and the swirling emotions surrounding it:

‘Cause I loved you then
And I love you now and I don’t know how
Guess it’s hard to know
When nobody else comes around
If I’m getting over you
Or just pretending to
Be alright, convince myself I hate you

With Happier Than Ever, Billie Eilish and FINNEAS have ensured they were far more than a “one-album wonder” with their first full-length. It’s different enough (just considering the number of acoustic songs) to be fresh, focused and polished enough to avoid the “sophomore jinx” and may even win over listeners who weren’t already dedicated members of Eilish’s camp.

Give it a listen below.

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