Billie Eilish – Hit Me Hard And Soft

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Not many artists could get away with announcing and successfully releasing an album without any singles whatsoever. Enter Billie Eilish, who set out to do exactly that with the new album Hit Me Hard and Soft. With this latest collection of songs, aided by her brother’s impeccable production, she reaffirms what she’s good at. Breathy vocals juxtaposed with harsh, sardonic lyrics. Vulnerability mixed with rage, offering both introspective thoughts and worldly observations

The collection of ten songs follows her widely lauded contribution to the Barbie soundtrack, “What Was I Made For?” Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, it forms the perfect bridge between her last record and this new release. Happier Than Ever already saw Eilish grapple with femininity and sexuality in the public eye, and the many expectations thrust upon her as a young star. Musically, it was crisp as always, with innovative pop sounds that drew inspiration from rock, jazz, and bossa nova. The Oscar-winning track took those same elements of vulnerability and centers the toxicity of spectatorship we associate with idols.

Eilish effortlessly continues where she left off with album opener “Skinny”, setting the tone for the entire album. Over a sharp guitar strum, she muses over how others perceive her to be happier just because she is skinnier. “People say I look happy / Just because I got skinny / But the old me is still me and maybe the real me / And I think she’s pretty.” Eilish and long-time collaborator, brother Finneas flip the script just when you think you’ve deciphered it. Characteristic of this record, each song seems to end where the next one begins, playing fast and loose with genres that are meant to blend together. For the opener, it means that in the last thirty seconds of the track, an orchestral section is introduced, before rapidly segueing into the drum and bass beat for “Lunch.”

While it’s one of the more exciting elements on the record, it’s also one that at times leaves you wanting more. The sections sometimes beg to be developed further, as if all we’ve gotten is a glimpse – rather than the full sonic story. For example, “Lunch” itself ends with an almost rave-like inspired outro, then reels it back to a breathy vocal. Just in time for “Chihiro,” inspired by Spirited Away, of which the airy vocals and heavy synths feel like a more polished version of her earlier work.

“Birds of a Feather” feels almost out of character for Eilish, who has become known for her more macabre take on pop songs. With vocals seemingly inspired by Kate Bush, she sings of eternal and predestined love, “I knew you in another life / You had that same look in your eyes / I love you, don’t act so surprised.”

Switching it up once more on “Wildflower,” Eilish flips back to an angstier, more morose take on relationships. “Good things don’t last / And life moves so fast / I’d never ask who was better,” she recounts in the verse. Once again, it’s the stripped-back isolated vocal at the end that really drives the emotion home. The same sadness seeps into “The Greatest,” although Eilish makes it sound like an unassuming lullaby at first. But then, around the three-minute mark, the track soars like we’ve heard only once before on the epic “Happier Than Ever.”

It’s followed by the absolute highlight of the album: “L’Amour De La Vie.” A completely unruffled Eilish confesses a lie – telling her former partner that they were the love of her life when they clearly were not. Just when you think the song tapers off in a distorted recording, the entire track transitions into something else altogether. The almost vicious lyrics are juxtaposed against a high-tempo, EDM-like beat: “You were so mediocre / And we’re so glad it’s over now.”

The last stretch of the album is no different in its experimental approach of songs that indeed hit both hard and soft. “The Diner” is another homage to her early work on When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? This time, she takes the perspective of a stalker as she pleads with the listener not to call the cops in an unsettling retelling of a spiraled obsession. For Eilish, who’s commented on the fine line between confessional pop and protecting her own privacy in the past, it’s a poignant track. Parasocial relationships, the kinship that fans feel with artists, can very quickly turn into something unhealthy. Perhaps it is this sinister undertone that propelled Eilish to whisper a phone number in the background. When called, it’s a recording of her.

The final two tracks serve to round up the album, with “Bittersuite” making reference to other songs on the album. It feels like a triptych of different soundscapes, somehow perfectly blending its soft and hard edges together, before segueing into “Blue”. For the last time, Eilish showcases her duality. Then, just as the strings take over, she breaks the fourth wall again. This time by cheekily expressing what many fans may think after a 10-song record: “When can we hear the next one?”

What a disservice that would be, when this album actually benefits from sitting with it for a while. It’s clear that for Hit Me Hard and Soft, Eilish chose quality over quantity. Whereas once upon a time she was perhaps seen as a zeitgeist phenomenon, it’s clear that her music is instead carving out a genre of her own. And while this album solidifies her influence on pop over the years, hitting hard and soft within the confines of one song is intricate work.

At times, it can also feel like Eilish is just dipping her toe in – rather than committing to something truly innovative. There’s still room left to grow, and some of the vibrant strokes of genius on this album deserve to be excavated further. But in a time where pop seems to move towards more, shorter songs; crafting an album with various shapeshifting five-minute tracks is an outstanding feat.