Review: Billie Eilish is best when she’s not taking herself too seriously

Rating: NNN

Billie Eilish is setting streaming records and burning up the charts, but the 17-year-old singer doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her debut album is getting a ton of attention for its frank sexuality and fully formed gothic attitude and bass-heavy style. But, as she reminds us throughout, she’s just a teenager having fun. 

The album plays like an angsty diary, scribbled with pseudo-depth that rings true to what it’s like growing up. It doesn’t have a definitive narrative, but explores sexuality, drugs and love in a way that doesn’t talk down to the listener. 

“I have taken out my Invisalign and this is the album,” Eilish slurps in opener !!!!!!!. She further sets the tone, forecasting ASMR interruptions and manic ad libs – a constant backdrop to the album’s bass-heavy coming-of-age soundtrack. 

The opener jump-cuts to Bad Guy. Eilish’s whispering vocals huff in tune with finger snaps that overlap a low pounding bass. “Make your mama sad type / make your girlfriend mad tight / might seduce your dad type / I’m the bad guy,” she sings, taunting her listeners with her sexual prowess. Eilish excels at carefree, albeit sarcastic seduction, mixing shock value lyrics with an apathetic tone. 

Finneas O’Connell, Eilish’s brother, joined her in writing and producing the album, which evokes eerie 90s horror movie nostalgia (a period Eilish wasn’t yet born for) throughout. The production stands out, while lines as simple as “duh” can ring through your head all day. 

Xanny whirrs to the sound of her sweet breathy voice, which is seemingly mangled with the whoosh of a box fan. As she swings through the extremes of being high, she repeats “don’t give me a xanny now or ever” while oscillating through the highs and lows of the melody. 

Songs like Bury A Friend, All The Good Girls Go To Hell and You Should See Me In A Crown give off a casually rebellious attitude that is infectious. In My Strange Addiction, Eilish plays with her sound by sampling clips from The Office’s Threat Level Midnight episode, which slot between her lovesick lyrics and remind us not to take ourselves – or her – too seriously.  

The album struggles to maintain its momentum toward the end. Listen Before I Go, I Love You and Goodbye feel like dragged out ballads compared to the earlier bad girl anthems. Eilish shines when she is giving attitude, but falls flat when she’s trying too hard to be earnest.

Top track: Bad Guy

@nowtoronto | @mariannalozo

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