When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (Universal)
There are plenty of things to say about Billie Eilish as a talent, a songwriter, a presence – some of which will be said below. But for me the most exciting thing about her is probably the thing she doesn’t even give much thought to, because it just is, and that’s her boldness.
The boldness to veer out of her lane whenever the mood takes her. The boldness to be in four, five – bugger it, let’s call it an even dozen – lanes across this album. The boldness to make these calls from a writing and production base of two (Eilish and her older brother, Finneas). And, yes, the boldness to do this before she has turned 18.
Of course, age can’t be ignored completely – even if Lorde made it seem blasé eventually, it’s still a shock to the system and must really shit musicians in the mid to late 20s prime still looking for a moment of genius, or even just a break - but in a sense this is the least surprising when it comes to boldness. Let’s face it, when you don’t know yet that you can’t do things, you don’t realise there’s anything surprising in actually doing them.
So if she wants to make a kind of minimalist electro-meets-art-school track in the mould of FKA Twigs, Eilish can run up Ilomilo, which vibrates and murmurs and glides and croons behind her almost whispering voice. While if some ‘90s slinky-but-striding R&B is the demand, then All The Good Girls Go To Hell has both the production and the insouciance to make it seem effortless.
Though hip hop is her declared first love – and you can see that in the shuddering-and-twinkling You Should See Me In A Crown or the loping confidence of My Strange Addiction - Eilish makes her best moves in the regions between R&B, pop and something approximating rock’s artier edge.
The kind of place where Xanny, which has the slurred rhythm of someone dosed up on that legal good/bad stuff, can offer what sounds like a summer’s pleasure song from a 1950s musical, as processed by Portishead.
Something like Fiona Apple in fact, as it’s not just a fondness for an elongated album title that brings the New Yorker to mind when listening to this LA-made record.
A song like Bury A Friend has Apple’s mix of attraction/discomfort, rhythm/stiffness, anti-social tendencies/hyper social awareness, while the sparkier Bad Guy, with its predatory bassline and close-miked voice, deepens its groove and heightens its poppiness without ever letting you think you’re settled. And that’s even before its last 40 seconds slow down to a darkly sexy/worryingly looming counter-climax.
Even the disconcertingly vulnerable I Love You has some of Apple’s sense of grandness-in-miniature, a contradiction which makes sense in her hands because drama is almost inherent.
I say disconcerting, not because tenderness hasn’t been seen already – Listen Before I Go, immediately before it, does that very well, and Wish You Were Gay offers a kind of lightness with bite that Ariana Grande has already taken to heart - but because up until the point I Love You arrives, track 13 of 14, real vulnerability is one thing Eilish hasn’t shown.
It’s possible though that the album’s closer, Goodbye, completing a run of three slow songs at the tail of the record, might throw some people even more. Blending layered attractively vague voices, lonely synths and humming low keyboards it drifts away like a thickening fog is closing in.
There’s likely some moody business across a whole album coming from Eilish one day. I’d say that’s unexpected, but by now, that word doesn’t mean the same thing around her.