At the time, 17-year-old Billie Eilish became one of the most talked about pop stars of 2019. Her Don’t Smile At Me EP from 2017 was a slow build that continued to grow then exploded with the release of her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and that album’s hit single “Bad Guy”. After that, everyone wanted to hear more of the music that her and her brother Finneas were creating in their parents’ house. Instead of another cookie cutter singer, Eilish’s distinct voice when mixed with pop meets goth meets R&B meets dance music had a little something for everyone. Since then, Eilish has been on all sorts of shows, videos, tabloids, etc and those experiences all feed into her sophomore album, Happier Than Ever.
First track “Getting Older” rides a minimal synth beat which Eilish mumbles over becoming more clear in the chorus, the last line being the most vulnerable before it cuts to the head nodding drumbeat of “I Didn’t Change My Number”. Eilish unleashes the line, “I didn’t change my number/I only changed who I reply to”. “Oxytocin” is a dark electronic throb with an echoey chorus that treats sex as a drug before the Underworld like lyrics of “GOLDWING” catches Eilish telling us multiple times to “keep your head down”.
Several of the singles are reserved for the second half of the album including the fifth single “NDA” that flexes like the hardest rapper, making a lover sign a non-disclosure agreement before leaving. Acoustic guitar appears more frequently on “Your Power” and the title track before it switches to a distorted electric guitar that gets louder as it goes on.
Where the album drags is on several of the middle tracks including the spoken word “Not My Responsibility”. At sixteen tracks, the same themes pop up time and again (troubles with fame, love interests, the media) but doesn’t add anything new. At times it can be like listening to a friend talk for 56 straight minutes while you tune in and out. Still, the first several tracks are electric and the last few reach another emotional level. On her sophomore album, the title Happier Than Ever may be tongue in cheek but the teenage sarcasm is one worth listening to.
Five Years is an important theme in the early part of David Bowie’s career. It’s the name of his first boxset that covers 1969-1973 and also the name of a 2013 documentary that covers those years. It’s also the first track on his classic album from 1972 where he unveils his Ziggy Stardust character entitled The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. “Five Years” is the first track with mostly just the spare drum of Mick Woodsmansey, piano stabs, and the occasional bass notes from Trevor Bolder. The song builds into a crescendo and release as Bowie sings about those being the last five years for Earth to exist.
“Moonage Daydream” is a glam rock stomper with the opening line, “I’m an alligator/I’m a mama-papa coming for you”. The guitar of Mick Ronson goes into the stratosphere while the track gains a whole new generation of fans when included in the Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack. The cover of Ron Davies’ “It Ain’t Easy” is mostly remembered for its powerful chorus and the sped-up guitar lines of “Hang On To Yourself” points the way to punk rock that would come a few years later.
The album co-produced with Ken Scott includes three iconic Bowie songs, the first being “Ziggy Stardust”. The famous guitar riff leads into describing the rock star that “took it all too far but boy could he play guitar” as he falls out with his other bandmates. Not to be outdone, a second classic guitar riff appears on “Suffragette City”, a song that is still a sure fire floor filler down at the indie disco. The “hey man” lyrics likely pay tribute to Lou Reed and the guitar riff is almost eclipsed by the false ending leading to Bowie exclaim – “wham bam thank you ma’am” before the music comes storming back.
Earlier on the album, Bowie returns to the “Space Oddity” theme on on first single, “Starman”. The earthbound lyrics expand to widescreen in the chorus where Bowie sings, “There’s a Starman, waiting in the sky/he’d like to come and meet us/but think he’d blow our minds”. A performance of “Starman” was beamed into living rooms across the UK thanks to his appearance on Top of the Pops where many future singers were taking notes. Regularly regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars propels Bowie into stardom and most of its tracks can still be heard on classic rock radio every day, everywhere around the world.
In 2018, Liz Phair received her best reviews in 25 years with the re-release of her classic debut Exile in Guyville that also included the The Girly-Sound Tapes comprised of the lo-fi tracks she recorded around that time. The debut is an alt rock classic and the tapes were a fascinating look at the early songs, some of which would grow in stature on future albums. After completing a memoir in 2019, Phair returned to work with Exile’s producer Brad Wood on a new set of songs released as Soberish.
Many songs explore the world of dating as an adult. “Ba Ba Ba” is a standout pop track that speaks of wanting to tell a partner she feels safe with him before the music on the third verse ups the ante to make it a more thrilling ride. “Lonely Street” sees Phair more vulnerable as she switches to a falsetto in the chorus and tells a partner that “I’ve got friends to pick up the loose ends” before leaving another relationship with her “Good Side”.
Many of the themes on Soberish are ones that Phair’s fans from the 90s could certainly relate to however they are often pedestrian in either music or lyrics. On “In There” we’re told that her “confidence is shook, I don’t know where to look” and “Soul Sucker” doesn’t explain much more about a partner than what the title says. “Spanish Doors” succeeds on being a pretty good radio pop track and second single “Hey Lou” talks about Lou Reed getting high and talking shit about Warhol, making it one of the more memorable tracks of the early new year. Soberish hits just enough to keep fans engaged while Liz Phair manages to get a lot off her chest.