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Hit Me Hard And Soft (Interscope/Universal)

OH I SAY, that’s a bit bold.

This is turning into a very fine year for pop music. It’s also been a most excellent year for people having sex, people enjoying sex, and people telling us about enjoying having sex. A lot of it. With boys, with girls, with either, with both.

(What’s that? That’s nice for them, but really, must we? Oh stop it, don’t purse your lips and pretend you don’t enjoy the vicarious thrills of these frisky young folks engaged in what the great Doug Anderson used to call the congress of the vole. Liar, liar high-waisted sensible pants on fire.)

Forgetting whetting the appetite for it though: on her third album, with some of her best straightforward pop songs yet, Ms Billie Eilish positively feasts on it in the lubricious Lunch where the object of her attentions – “It’s a craving, not a crush” – is the veritable meal in question.

“I could eat that girl for lunch/As she dances on my tongue/Tastes like she might be the one,” Eilish burbles excitedly over a squelchy rhythm and synthetic carapace that sounds like the manifestation of her promise to buy this object d’lust whatever the hell she wants, whenever she wants it, so just call, like now.

In a cool bass strut reminiscent of Dua Lipa’s new record, Lunch finds Eilish moving on her like, well, an enthusiast. Of desserts presumably. “Been trying hard not to overeat/You’re just so sweet,” she smirks before a diversion where electric piano lightly dances over the needy/greedy momentum like a palette cleanser, only to set us back on the hot’n’heavy business. After the year’s most egregious understatement – “I am interested in more than just being your friend” – there is what might not even qualify as a single entendre. “I don’t want to break it, just want it to bend/Do you know how to bend?”

Right then, nice cold drink for everyone?

Sure, a few tracks later, in the barebones acoustic guitar plus barely there backing vocals/echo, The Greatest, Eilish is struggling with a disparity in desire (among other things). “All the times I waited/For you to want me naked,” she sighs. But in the sudden swelling of guitar, heavy echo drums and unexpectedly soaring vocals that accompany “Just wanted passion from you/Just wanted what I gave you”, there lies appetite not yet spent. For now.

Is it the kind of passion that curdles into hate? Not immediately. In the cabaret soul ballad opening of, L’amour De Ma Vie, which is set in the aftermath of an amour fou where the roles are reversed, there is understanding that might make forgiveness on either side unnecessary: “I was the love of your life/But you were not mine,” is said with regret.

But no, that’s not going to work, that’s not going to be enough. An apology Is sought, mutterings are heard and when around the 3 minute.30 mark the bitsy drums and early ‘80s synths lift the stroke rate markedly and her voice gets machined, niceness goes out the window. “Want to know what I told her, with her hand on my shoulder?/You were so mediocre and we’re so glad it’s over now.” Ouch. Lust to loathing in six songs.

The lustful and then regretful songs do shift tempos up and down – and the opening Skinny, which makes like a breathy caress on nodding terms with Jobim, is a bold start for a modern pop record and is matched by the modestly proportioned 1950s stylings of Blue nine songs later – but they haven’t yet encouraged Eilish and her co-writer/producer brother Fineas O’Connell to break out from the middle range which they inhabit with comfort, to dance, for example.

Not that there’s any pressing need to when the delicately beautiful Wildflower, all brushed guitar and hushed interchanges, and the slightly brisker Birds Of A Feather, which reimagines The Sundays crossed with Texas, hold that centre so convincingly. And taking the middle lane, despite what Neil Young might have to say, is not automatically a bad thing when you write songs as good as these two do.

Still, it’s unexplored territory and they’ve got plenty of time. And desire. Definitely desire. Did I mention that?






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