Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Billie Eilish

  • Dont Smile at Me [Darkroom/Interscope EP, 2017] B+
  • When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? [Darkroom/Interscope, 2019] A
  • Happier Than Ever [Darkroom/Interscope, 2021] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dont Smile at Me [Darkroom/Interscope EP, 2017]
Billie's songwriting is still juvey here, Finneas's production still in the learning stage. Yet those gobsmacked by the album are now equipped to go back to first appreciate and then savor Eilish's RIAA-certified singles and their EP pals. I doubt I'll ever find the quietly murderous "Bellyache," say, much more than a sublimated tantrum, bummer, existentialist gesture, whatever. But none of these interpretations render it anything close to unlistenable, carried as it is, like the whole wittingly makeshift collection, by her still-fragile melodies and still-pure voice. B+

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? [Darkroom/Interscope, 2019]
Slotting this self-created 17-year-old as pop computes musically and commercially while reminding us how amorphous that once snappy term has become. Her soprano too diminutive for vocal calisthenics, her sensibility too impressionistic to bother mapping out track-and-hook bliss points, Eilish is a home-schooled Highland Park weirdo whose darkly playful version of teen-goth angst had already captivated millions of young weirdos-in-potentia before this electro-saturated debut album put in its bid for the rest of us. Seldom catchy in any conventional sense, every one of these 14 tracks entices the ear anyway, from "Bad Guy"'s "duh"s to "Xanny"'s blown speaker cone to the shuddering sound-pit that swallows "You Should See Me in a Crown" to the plinked piano of "All the Good Girls Go to Hell" to the tunefully cooed "Wish You Were Gay," and it keeps going. Only then it closes shut when one of the least self-glorifying suicide songs ever sets up a finale comprising songs titled simply "I Love You" and "Goodbye"--each quiet, each pretty, each what it says, each sad without ever turning gruesome or crossing its fingers. A

Happier Than Ever [Darkroom/Interscope, 2021]
Because she enjoyed the incomparable distinction and suffered the incomprehensible burden of sweeping the Grammys at 17, ordinary life will be out of her reach for a long time. So unless and until she elects to go public with romantic encounters I hope she enjoys and applaud her for concealing via "NDA," quote unquote because "NDA" is an actual song title here, that leaves her with one subject: stardom and its discontents, a privilege and dilemma it would seem impossible to say anything new much less interesting about. Only then out of sheer candor she does. "Things I once enjoyed/Just keep me employed now/Things I'm longing for/Someday I'll be bored of/It's so weird/That we care so much until we don't." Nor is this the only new truism she pulls out of her thoughtstream. How about "I sure have a knack for seeing life more like a child"? Or the meditation on the objectified female body that is "Not My Responsibility"? No wonder the music Finneas comes up with for her is calmer and less sprightly than the stuff that converted the world. But because I'm old enough to feel both concern for a youngster's well-being and awe at her unguarded resourcefulness, that's fine with me. Let's hope her fellow teens feel the same. A