'Hit Me Hard and Soft' review: Billie Eilish takes flight into a league of her own


By AGENCY

Billie Eilish performs during the the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Indio, Calif. — Photo: AP

"Am I acting my age now?" Billie Eilish, 22, wonders aloud on the opening track to her ambitious third album, Hit Me Hard And Soft.

"Am I already on the way out?"

The 10-track release sees a once-in-a-generation pop performer once again rewriting the rules: If Eilish’s first record introduced the world to her brilliant horror-pop, with its macabre humor, off-kilter beats and teenage Invisalign slurps, and her second wiped away those black tears for pop crooning and bossa nova ruminations on the expectations of fame, her third is an amalgamation of both, with bold new surprises.

Hit Me Hard And Soft proves Eilish to be an outsider in contemporary pop in a few ways: This is an album meant to be heard and enjoyed in full, working contrary to the current single-centric model of the music industry. And she earns that distinction, with a fuller sound, courtesy her brother, producer, and lifelong collaborator Finneas O’Connell, now joined by Andrew Marshall on drums and the Attacca Quartet on strings.

Opener Skinny launches into the saccharine falsetto of her award-winning Barbie ballad What Was I Made For? The song’s messaging, too, has a similar kind of resonance – she tackles body image, singing "People say I look happy/ Just because I got skinny" – echoing her short film and spoken word interlude Not My Responsibility from 2021's Happier Than Ever.

A string section carries Skinny to its coda, harking back to Eilish’s performance of her Barbie song at the 2024 Oscars, where she was joined by an orchestra.

From that point onward, everything changes. Fake outs define Hit Me Hard And Soft. Think a song is going in one direction? Guess again.

In the last five seconds of Skinny, pulsating drums enter the equation, a beat that carries into the sapphic anthem Lunch – a soon-to-be fan favourite.

Then there's the languid bass and airy refrain of away from me on the mid-tempo Chihiro, likely named after the 10-year-old protagonist in Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli classic, Spirited Away. That song, like many on the album, begins soft and ends hard. An erotic crescendo of thumping techno-house reaches Challengers-level of audial elation.

Billie Eilish arrives at the 29th Critics Choice Awards on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. — Photo: APBillie Eilish arrives at the 29th Critics Choice Awards on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. — Photo: AP

The Greatest could be considered a thematic sequel to everything I wanted from her 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? now with a plucky, nylon string guitar. Three and a half minutes in, it turns into atmospheric, arena rock. Blown-out guitars are executed in a way that feels familiar to the 2021 title track, Happier Than Ever.

The deceptively cheery sounding L’amour De Ma Vie, too, is true to the sort of the jazzy, lounge moments of her last album. "But I need to confess/ I told you a lie," a clear-eyed Eilish sings. "I said you/ you were the love of my life".

Later, the song ascends into synth-pop bliss – autotuned, distorted vocals in a hyperpop, Eurodance rave – lest anyone forget this is the same pop performer who wrote the industrial track Oxytocin.

So where did the bad guy singer go? The Diner, duh. Here, her haunted carnival ride sound returns. "Don’t be afraid of me," she opens her gothic vaudeville (now a command rather than the inquiry "Why aren’t you scared of me?" from 2019’s bury a friend.) She teases, "Bet I could change your life/ You could be my wife".

Where other artistes might pull from their past to make derivative, impressionistic portraits of who they used to be, Eilish evolves her ghosts.

That's true in the breathy closer Blue, a sonic reminder of Eilish’s long love of Lana Del Rey records, until it takes a Massive Attack-style trip-hop detour. Two things can be true – and blue – at once.

Hit Me Hard And Soft is the loudest Eilish has ever been on record – no longer singing almost exclusively in gorgeous, hushed tones just above an ASMR whisper, buried underneath sweeping, innovative production. Clearly, she's gained the self-assurance to belt above the mix.

The only skip may be the penultimate track Bittersuite, which suffers under its own subtlety – something she manages to avoid on the largely-acoustic Wildflower. There, her sonic sweetness muddles after a crisp drum fill somewhere in the middle. It’s understated, but effectual. Lyrically, Eilish details a preoccupation with a current partner’s former lover: "Every time you touch me," she sings. "I just wonder how she felt".

Throughout the album, Eilish is a bird: She’s a bird in a cage in Skinny; she wants to stick together on the baroque pop track Birds Of A Feather, and by the album’s closer Blue, she realises they were not birds of a feather, after all – and she’s back in a cage.

It's a welcomed change from the tarantulas that defined When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, but it also serves as the ideal metaphor for Eilish's third album. She's motivated by a desire for freedom. And on Hit Me Hard And Soft, she's allowed herself to communicate the tension – and let it take flight.

8 10

Summary:

Eilish is rewriting the rules once again.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

Billie Eilish

   

Next In Entertainment

Global K-pop girl group Katseye confirms US debut on June 28; Philippine lass Sophia among six member group
Chinese actress Fan Bing Bing recommends ‘Durian Cendol’ to Chinese tourists
This is for real! The Thai 'boys' love' TV dramas are now conquering Asia
Anthony Wong, 62, suffers from high cholesterol, blocked arteries, doctor says actor needs surgery
'Bad Boys: Ride Or Die' review: Goofy sequel that's not bad, but not great either
Former One Direction star Zayn Malik reveals Chinese secret behind his voice
A whole lot of Fan in Melaka
Singaporean actor Aliff Aziz puts career on hold after divorce from Bella Astillah: 'Need to take care of my mental health'
Taylor Swift's Edinburgh shows trigger earthquakes again
Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman locked in for ‘Practical Magic’ sequel

Others Also Read