Billie Eilish/ Happier Than Ever, Pop, Interscope
Teenage star Billie Eilish begins her new album Happier Than Ever with the lines, “I’m getting older, I think I’m ageing well”. Over most of the album, she keeps talking about how she’s maturely dealt with fame and the downside of being a headline grabber.
An overnight sensation two years ago, Billie was a Grammy star with her debut album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Her new release Happier Than Ever just shows her in a grown-up, 19-year-old space, singing about pressure, optimism and conviction.
The problem with Billie is that she keeps oscillating between two vocal and song styles – one for the intense stuff (like Getting Older, Lost Cause and Halley’s Comet) and the other for the uptempo numbers (like Oxytocin and I Didn0’t Change My Number).
While that makes things monotonous, she definitely has a winner in the semi-spoken Not My Responsibility, which talks of body shaming. Overall, she’s up there lyrically, but tunewise, needs some variation. To her benefit, her sound has worked.
Rating: 6/ 10
Jackson Browne/ Downhill From Everywhere, Country-Rock, Inside Recordings
For a section of music fans, Jackson Browne is known as the co-writer of the Eagles hits Take It Easy and Doolin-Dalton. On his own, he’s been one of the most influential songwriters in American West Coast country-rock.
Browne’s 15th studio album Downhill From Everywhere sticks to his known style, but at 72, he obviously knows what his audience wants. Filled with lead and pedal steel guitars, unconventional rhythms and intricate back-up vocals, the songs meander between romantic letdowns and socio-political commentary.
Stand-out cuts include Human Touch, a duet with Leslie Mendelson relevant in the post-pandemic era, the catchy Love Is Love, and the title track, which talks of societal deterioration. The Dreamer, co-written by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, is a song about deportation first released in 2017.
For variety, there’s a Latino flavour on Song For Barcelona – “city that gave me back my fire, and restored my appetite”. It has an anthemic quality, though the last two of the nearly nine minutes could have been easily chopped.
Rating: 7/ 10
Prince/ Welcome 2 America, Pop, NPG Records
Five years after superstar Prince passed away, we have a posthumous album of songs recorded over a decade ago. A mix of protest writing and funk-laced pop, it expresses the artiste’s views on the Obama-era economy, religion, racism and drug culture.
Playing guitars and occasionally other instruments, Prince leads a band featuring bassist Tal Wilkenfield and a trio of back-up vocalists. The title track talks of the American scenario with descriptions like “land of the free, home of the slave”.
The message songs also include a cover of Soul Asylum’s Stand Up And Be Strong and the clap-along beauty Same Page Different Book, which addresses religion and war. Check The Record and Hot Summers are throwbacks on vintage 1980s Prince, filled with funk flourishes.
Elsewhere, the record meanders, probably explaining why Prince didn’t release it in his lifetime. But he ends with hope, taking potshots at the religious and education systems, but aptly calling the last song One Day We’ll All B Free. Touche.
Rating: 7/ 10
Nas/ King’s Disease II, Hip-Hop, Mass Appeal Records
A year after releasing the Grammy winner King’s Disease, American rapper Nas puts out the sequel. Co-produced by the brilliant Hit-Boy, the album has a good mix of solo stuff and celebrity collabs.
Eminem and rap duo NPMD appear on NPMD 2, and it’s a delight to hear the two stars rap together. Then there are the marvellous Lauryn Hill on the trumpet-laced Nobody and singer-songwriter Charlie Wilson on No Phony Love, which ends with the line, “Love is trust, trust is love”.
The prize songs, however, are Death Row East, which references the East Coast-West Coast rap battle and the death of 2pac, and the energetic video song Rare. There’s a stunner in Composure, featuring Hit-Boy on pipes.
But if one track can be rated as a modern hip-hop masterpiece, it’s Store Run. The brilliant rapping and contrasting back-up vocal line give it a melodic edge, as it narrates a rags-to-riches tale. Fant-Nas-Tic.
Rating: 8/ 10
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