ADRIAN THRILLS: Billie the kid grows up! Pop princess is back… and she’s moved on from skater girl to mature songwriter
BILLIE EILISH: Happier Than Ever (Polydor)
Verdict: Understated success
BARBRA STREISAND: Release Me 2 (Legacy)
Verdict: Hidden gems
When making her first album two years ago, Billie Eilish wasn’t a household name.
Creating music with her brother Finneas in their childhood home, she was a rising star rather than a global phenomenon.
Now, at 19, she’s one of the biggest names in pop, with seven Grammys and a Bond theme under her belt.
That debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, reached No 1 in 18 countries, and she has 88 million Instagram followers. She’s also been an inspiration to a host of other introspective teen stars, with Olivia Rodrigo the latest to take the charts by storm.
Given the anticipation surrounding her second album, a little apprehension would be understandable, with Eilish’s trepidation heightened by her decision to hold the record back until live shows are again possible.
When making her first album two years ago, Billie Eilish (pictured) wasn’t a household name. That debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, reached No 1 in 18 countries
With a U.S. tour starting next month, and UK dates in June 2022, Happier Than Ever is finally here, and the singer’s young, female fans will be relieved it’s a smart sequel — business as usual, but with unexpected turns to tempt older listeners.
The album’s 16 songs were again written and recorded by Billie and her brother, 23, at home in LA. With no outside producers or co-writers involved, the duo’s working practices weren’t unduly disrupted by lockdown.
True to form, the tone is laid-back and woozy, with lots of electronic beats and hushed vocals.
Eilish stoops quietly to conquer. Intimacy and honesty remain her calling cards, but she now has more to sing about: growing up in public; the perils of fame; a broken romance.
And just as she’s changed her image — baggy skater shorts and green hair have given way to a softer look — so she has matured as a songwriter.
She no longer has the air of a sulky adolescent who refuses to tidy her bedroom. ‘I’m getting older, I think I’m ageing well,’ she murmurs on Getting Older, her whispered voice cushioned by Finneas’s deliberately wonky keyboards and a sweet, Beatles-like melody that seeps through his cutting-edge production.
Creating music with her brother Finneas (both pictured at Grammys in 2020), she was a rising star. Now, at 19, she’s one of the biggest names in pop, with seven Grammys under her belt
It’s one of several songs that address the darker side of success: there are deranged strangers at Billie’s door, and she’s forever being judged on her appearance.
Given that she made her name by capturing the everyday concerns of her fans, you might think that complaining about the ensuing fame is ill-advised, but Eilish is clever enough to add twists to the tale.
On Billie Bossa Nova, she uses the act of avoiding the paparazzi (booking hotel rooms under an assumed name) as a metaphor for a secret love affair.Her anxieties are tempered with romantic yearning on Halley’s Comet, a 1960s-style piano ballad.
Elsewhere, the mood is more troubled. Your Power confronts an abusive older man, examining a concerning issue against a backdrop of strummed acoustic guitar.
Overheated tackles social media at its most sinister: ‘You want to kill me? You want to hurt me?’ But there’s a fearlessness amid the gloom on Therefore I Am, a rap-influenced kiss-off to an attention-seeking impersonator.
Happier Than Ever loses momentum in places. Its blurry moods become repetitive on Everybody Dies and Goldwing, and there’s nothing here as catchy as 2019’s kooky pop single Bad Guy.
But its brightest songs add something to Billie’s less-is-more approach. The beats-heavy Oxytocin is a full-blown dance number, and the title track features booming drums and guitar.
On Billie’s Bossa Nova and My Future, there are hints of jazz and musical theatre — enough of a progression to confirm she’s no flash in the pan.
Sixty years Eilish’s senior, Barbra Streisand maintains an admirable work ethic.
Sixty years Eilish’s senior, Barbra Streisand (pictured in August 2019) maintains an admirable work ethic. Barbra, 79, maintains that Release Me 2 isn’t a case of second-hand roses
Having surprised fans with an album of protest songs in 2018, Broadway’s greatest singing star dips into the archives for a second volume of songs she had previously shelved.
Barbra, 79, maintains that Release Me 2 isn’t a case of second-hand roses, and the ten, career-spanning rarities, updated with fresh touches, are largely high-quality blooms.
The earliest track, a bright take on the 1940s standard Right As The Rain, offers a glimpse of an emerging talent. Streisand was Eilish’s age when she cut the song in 1962, but her range and control are remarkable.
Despite her Broadway roots, she also embraced the singer-songwriter boom of the 1970s, covering Graham Nash and Randy Newman, and two tracks from that era surface here: she sprinkles sophisticated razzle-dazzle on Newman’s Living Without You and Carole King’s You Light Up My Life.
No Streisand compilation would be complete without marquee duets, and this one contains three.
A collaboration with Kermit The Frog is a novelty, but she sparkles with Barry Gibb on If Only You Were Mine and lays on the schmaltz, without being too mawkish, with Willie Nelson on I’d Want It To Be You.
GEORGE HARRISON: All Things Must Pass (Capitol/UMe)
Verdict: Solo splendour
His creativity stifled by the dominance of Lennon and McCartney in The Beatles, George Harrison wasted no time in doing his own thing on 1970’s All Things Must Pass.
With material stockpiled from as far back as 1966, his pent-up artistry produced a stunning triple LP that remains one of the best by an ex-Beatle.
Taking an eclectic cue from the gospelly My Sweet Lord and the the Motown beats of What Is Life, it encompassed blues, country-rock and Bob Dylan-inspired folk.
George Harrison wasted no time in doing his own thing on 1970’s All Things Must Pass. With material stockpiled from as far back as 1966, his artistry produced a stunning triple LP
His themes included the search for enlightenment and the demise of his old band. The only flaws came on the long, largely instrumental jams at the end.
Delayed a year by Covid, this 50th anniversary reissue is a treasure trove of unreleased songs, fresh mixes and out-takes.
Out today in multiple formats, from a double CD (£17) to an ‘uber deluxe’ version (£860) in an ‘artisanal crate’, complete with music, prayer beads and gnomes like those on the original sleeve.
Among the ‘new’ tracks are the bluesy Cosmic Empire, the world-weary Dylan co-write Nowhere To Go, and Sour Milk Sea, one of several excellent songs rejected by The Fab Four.
All things must pass, but the most successful album ever by a solo Beatle is a gift that keeps giving.
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