tue 25/06/2024

Album: Billie Eilish - Hit Me Hard and Soft | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Billie Eilish - Hit Me Hard and Soft

Album: Billie Eilish - Hit Me Hard and Soft

Desire and longing are the submersibles that propel Eilish’s riveting third album

So Billie Eilish’s new album has had its worldwide midnight release, dropping at midnight wherever you are kiddos, and taken as a whole it’s like some dark, heavy, low-hanging semi-forbidden, semi-erect fruit that you want to bite into, chew and swallow.

Eilish, who composes and records with her brother Finneas O’Connell, has said of this third album that she hopes all of us listeners would have the focus and linger time to be able to sit down and listen to its songs chronologically and all the way through so that it “hits you hard and soft both lyrically and sonically, while bending genres and defying trends along the way”. So let’s have at it.

It opens softly with a lone guitar and breathy, close-mic’d vocals, words of self-reflection, confession then realisation, a sea floor of synths and layered vocals billowing like fabrics through the viscous blue medium of album opener “Skinny”.

It all sounds submerged, as Eilish is on the album’s cover and in its accompanying lyric videos. A recent Rolling Stone story talks of her being quite the trooper on a long and arduous underwater shoot for those videos and that cover, the singer going under again and again, complete with weights and a bell jar of breathe stoppered tight in the singer’s lungs.

The resulting cover has her suspended underwater, hair and clothes billowing around her in some dark blue, subconscious medium. The plain white wooden door above her opens onto an unknown surface leading her to – where? The lustful second song “Lunch”, that’s where, a song of desire, girl-crushing to an electro club beat, turning hard on the expectation of eating out while exhorting “it’s a craving not a crush”. It’s a song that goes all the way in terms of expressing sexual appetite, sans anything as adhesive as shame or doubt. Eilish is refreshingly vocal on these matters in media interviews, expressing, for instance, more or less the same level of appetite for masturbation as Salvador Dali, the Great Masturbator himself.

“Birds of a Feather” reminded me of Everything But the Girl, vocally and melody-wise, the song’s subdued synths and digital beats reminiscent of Ben and Tracey’s Walking Wounded. It’s a very pretty pop song, held together by its feminine rhymes, and with a hint or two of shoegaze – if she wears shoes, that is. “Wildflower” is a song of the heart and heartbreak, a guitar ballad and another close-mic’d breathy vocal reflecting on what desire does, and it’s all about falling, in and out of love’s suspending medium, the choruses coagulating into a rich synthy soup that then clears to a spooky, echoey coda.

“The Greatest” starts out skeletally minimal, its murmuring, sweet vocal turning over the pros and cons of an unfulfilled coupling, rising to an explosion of bombast, while the decidedly unregretful “l’amour de ma vie” play and toys with love’s weight and measures. “I was the love of your life, mmm, but you were not mine,” she murmurs, before the song splits off schizophrenically into a heavily autotuned electro banger. “The Diner”, in contrast, sounds like electro-chanson, quirkily soundscaped, with something noir stirring in the net of its lyrics, in its narrative of delayed expectation and desire. At the very end she whispers out a phone number. How many will call it, and will there be anyone to pick up?

“Bittersuite” meditates on being an object of desire, submerged as it is in woozy synths sweeping through the chorus on a rinse and repeat cycle before a deeper, more disturbing synth line rises up, like some creature from the deep, and you keep thinking of that cover image, the singer suspended in her blue medium, and that open door to the surface leading into the light and album closer “Blue” – shades of Joni Mitchell, perhaps, expressing an urge for clarity, and clearing. It’s an older song, given the kiss of life and revived to draw a seal around this album of containment, desire and holistic oneness.

Out of the four elements of air, fire, earth and water, it’s the watery submersion that Eilish has taken for her matter. It’s an ambitious, focused, condensed and intimate and knowing piece of work. It’s striking in that it is conceived as a single entity, not a collection. Its music is flowing and layered and rich in detail and reflection, so that having sat and listened through, you feel have been submerged in its own peculiar, slow-moving, all-enveloping medium, and you want to dive in again.

That it closes with a classical string quartet over a wordless vocal, and then a spoken-word coda of “when do I hear the next one?” seems apt. Sounds like she can’t wait for the next one herself. Whether that’s an album or a subject of desire. And who can blame her?

@CummingTim

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