Billie Eilish

(Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Don't Smile at Me (2017), 7/10 (EP)
When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (2019) , 6.5/10
Happier Than Ever (2021), 6/10

(Click here for the Italian version)

Los Angeles-born singer Billie Eilish (last name O'Connell) was only 15 when her ethereal folk-pop ballad Ocean Eyes (written and arranged by her brother Finneas O'Connell) went viral on the Internet. Another early single, Bellyache, added a darker, spectral side to her sound. The eight-song EP Don't Smile at Me (2017) delivered third-rate sleepy dance-soul (Xanny) and tedious balladry (Watch) but also a trio of intriguing ideas: the cabaret-tish My Boy (how Marlene Dietrich would sound in the digital era) the subliminal singalong Copycat, and the beach shuffle Party Favor. The influence of Lorde looms over the proceedings.

The album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (2019) turned her into a world star by adding the whispered Wish You Were Gay, evoking smoky night-clubs of the 1940s, the delicate suicidal Listen Before i Go, the glitch-dubstep-folk number You Should see me in a Crown, and the grotesquely melodramatic When the Party's Over. The real highlight is the sophisticated production method of her brother, faithful to the "less is more" principle. He crafts the skeletal swinging lullaby Bury a Friend (possibly the standout), the weakly pulsing ska Ilomilo , and another cabaret-sounding number, All the Good Girls go to Hell. Her (his?) biggest hit was Bad Guy, with tribal beat, cinematic synth melody and phrasing of the doo-wop era. Unfortunately the (widely acclaimed) single Everything i Wanted (2019) and Bitches Broken Hearts (2019) invested in the least interesting elements of his arrangements and of her voice.

Billie Eilish's meteoric rise to pop stardom (a rarity for someone still in her teens), now the poster-child of "generation Z", culminated with Happier Than Ever (2021), on which her intimate whispered croon was mostly coupled with stripped-down arrangements. The delicate piano ballad Halley's Comet is emblematic, but simplicity is also the keyword for the soul-jazz ballad I Didn't Change My Number and the sensual Billie Bossa Nova, where it feels like she's asphyxiating. The highlights are songs in which the simple structure enhances instead of depressing the duo's unorthodox take on the pop ballad: Therefore I Am, the only song shaken by sub-bass lines, where a sinister cabarettish refrain is repeatedly interrupted by cinematic field recordings; Getting Older, that evokes Nico singing in a musichall; Happier Than Ever, a country elegy a` la Cowboy Junkies that turns into a bombastic pub singalong; and Oxytocin (perhaps the standout), a jarring combination of Finneas' industrial beat and her disco-era purring. Several songs are faceless and disposable. The conventional funk dance My Future is a nod at the dance club. Her emotional engagement with the songs is virtually non-existent. She sings as if she were daydreaming. Then, again, that's precisely the strength of her vocals, the forte of her performance, and, given the instrumental parsimony, pretty much the only reason to listen to this album.