Happier than Ever
In many respects, for an artist, the sequel is far more important than the debut.
If they fail to properly establish themselves within their respective industries, then their initial work, no matter how great it has been, is likely to be perceived as a fluke. It is a trend that appears throughout many medium - one wonders if 'The Empire Strikes Back' had been a sub-par movie would 'Star Wars' have the cultural hold it has today? Or if Taylor Swift’s Fearless was an underwhelming album would her career have ever reached the point where she was re-recording her songs so that they are baked into the minds of millions?
With all this as a backdrop - enter Billie Eilish and her sophomore album ‘Happier Than Ever’. The 19-year-old is a multi-Grammy award winner and is one of the most famous singers in the world. She made a name for herself off of her raw, dark, and catchy songs that she creates alongside her producer/brother Finneas garnering her both critical and commercial acclaim. Needless to say she had serious momentum going into this new album, something she acknowledges as she states on the opening track “I’m getting older, I’ve got more on my shoulders” – but did she deliver?
Whilst Billie Eilish has managed to complete a stylistic change in terms of her appearance- swapping the clothes that are 5 sizes too big and brightly dyed hair for sleek blonde hair and designer corsets - this isn’t a change that has transcended to her music. Many of the songs feel as though they were re-tweaked from a myriad of B sides from her debut ‘WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” - not bad in their own respects but not as interesting and innovative work that preceded it.
The singles 'Therefore I am' and 'Your power' are good exemplars of the rest of the album as Billie tackles fame, misogyny and her relationships is a blunt way – the former built on a quick drum machine and scratchy bass line whilst the other has a gentle guitar line and let's Billie’s lyrics take centre stage. Other tracks such as 'I Didn’t Change my Number', that interestingly begins with the snarls of an animal that sounds like either a pig or a dog, and 'Not My Responsibility' (the intro is the clip she used at the start of her live shows in early 2020 where she softly talks of how “you have opinions about my opinions...”). , clearly fit into this mould and Billie and Finneas flitter between throughout the album as it alternates between vulnerable slower songs and more confrontational up-tempo ones.
The title track 'Happier Than Ever' is the clear stand out - achieving everything that Eilish clearly wants to on the album, as she tackles a terrible relationship, the industry she sees as restricting and enveloping her, and growing away from those who you once loved. The soothing ukulele mixed with Eilish’s restrained vocals as she talks of how "...when I’m away from you than I’m happier than ever" as "...you clearly weren’t aware you made me miserable", lull the listener into a false sense of security before transitioning to a punchier and more impactful song made up of a forceful electric guitar, harsh drums and Eilish delivering her strongest vocal performance as she yells “Just fucking leave me alone” before the song descends into powerful screeching and guitars. It is genuinely the best song on the album.
Whilst this is not the strongest body of work that Eilish could have released it still has its highlights, alongside the aforementioned 'Happier than Ever' , the song 'Oxycontin' is one of the strongest with a techno synth and a drum line that feels like heart palpitations. The first song 'Getting Older' discusses sexual coercion and the pessimistic view Billie feels she has to take now that she has been consumed by fame.
Even though it is not as good as expectations may have predicted, built on frequent references to fame that sometimes feel alienating and bass lines that get repetitive, 'Happier than Ever' is a decent album with some songs that are genuinely amazing.