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On ‘Hit Me Hard and Soft,’ Billie Eilish boasts a new-found maturity with complex production and scorching lyrics

In early April, Billie Eilish added all 110 million of her Instagram followers to her Close Friends list.

The PR stunt worked — the 22-year-old chart-topper gained millions of new followers from it. Before it was clear just how many people had been added to the list, fans around the world — including bewildered music journalists like me — wondered if they had been chosen by mistake or if, for some reason, they’d been placed onto the list by Eilish herself, demolishing the wall of celebrity between Eilish and her kingdom.

In retrospect, as a marketing ploy for her dreamy new album “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” the Close Friends gimmick makes all the sense in the world. The record, a 10-track odyssey through Eilish’s innermost thoughts, feels like being pulled into a lifelong friendship with Eilish.

As if on a leisurely road trip or over a rich dessert, Eilish embarks on a new sort of relationship with her listeners, offering her confidants a record pocked with blazing tributes to lovers lost and gentle lullabies to soothe a scorched self.

With “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” Eilish lets us in on the fully grown person she’s becoming, not just the early 20-something with more awards to her name than plenty of musicians twice her age.

Eilish begins “Hit Me Hard and Soft” with “Skinny,” a red herring of an opening track that might make you think you’ve been whisked back to 2017. On “Skinny,” Eilish’s vocals are at their wispiest — think “Ocean Eyes” or “lovely” — but by the time the track reaches its conclusion something begins to shift. A simple, sad guitar line dissolves into a cinematic strings arrangement before, all at once, a thrumming, frenetic electronic beat begins to pulse.

And we’re off to the races. To put this in a newspaper-friendly way: “Lunch,” one of the most highly anticipated jams on the album, isn’t about sandwiches or water coolers. On the record’s second track, Eilish sings lustfully about another woman, describing in detail the way she might taste on her tongue, the way she might feel against her skin.

It’s a catchy-as-hell sapphic anthem likely to receive ample radio play over the next few months, produced with playful electronic licks that make the chorus an instant earworm.

“Chihiro” pays homage to Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” the 2001 Oscar-winning film about a young girl whisked into adulthood by way of a haunted bathhouse.

On “Chihiro,” the album’s production shines brightly, with muted beats that feel as if they’re trapped within the walls of a nightclub. Eilish’s voice, gorgeous as always, is hazy and grounded; and slowly, thrillingly, “Chihiro” builds to a cacophonous climax, so sonically crowded it feels like being on the inside of a panic attack.

While “Chihiro” might honour lost youth or forced decorum, it’s a track that signals the ever evolving maturity of Eilish’s music-making, and it’s a glorious standout on “Hit Me Hard and Soft.”

Over the following seven tracks, the record seems to unpeel the pages of Eilish’s sonic diary with more and more conviction. “Birds of a Feather” blends organic instruments with soul-inspired whistles in Eilish’s head voice; “Wildflower” combines simple rhymes with ethereal, haunting chord progressions unlike anything else on the radio right now.

Eilish doesn’t need to hide behind production or tricks — her voice is in great form and the vibrato and candour on “Wildflower” is just stunning.

Right around “The Greatest,” Eilish turns sharper, injecting the Judy Garland-esque depth of her voice with sarcasm and bite. Perhaps the song is about a former lover; perhaps it’s a jeer toward the music industry.

“I’m trying my best to keep you satisfied,” croons Eilish, before the song evolves into its bridge, filled with the same rage that made “Happier Than Ever” such a hit. It’s safe to say “The Greatest” will tour well — it begs to be screamed in an arena.

“Hit Me Hard and Soft” is an album that knows what it is and knows what it wants to say; Eilish and her brother (producer Finneas) can be proud.

When Eilish’s voice comes to the front of a track, unhindered by reverb or other aural smoke-screening, it’s stunning, controlled and raw at the same time.

“Hit Me Hard and Soft” boasts a self-assured complexity that ought to solidify the record as a timeless hit. Indeed, after listening, you’ll feel like one of Eilish’s close friends — and oh, what a privilege it is, that intimacy.

*****
Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com

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