Photo Credit: Mason Poole
As of mid-2022, Billie Eilish is still too young to legally buy beer, yet she’s achieved more than many can ever hope to do. Her 2019 debut album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? certainly went someplace: namely, to number one all over the world and to eventual sales of four million copies in the U.S. alone. The 2021 follow-up Happier Than Ever, also topped the charts worldwide. Her most recent tour had her headlining arenas. Along the way she also recorded the theme for a James Bond movie, putting her in the company of artists like Paul McCartney and Tina Turner (oh, and she also won a freakin’ Oscar for the song).
So, yeah, Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell is doing pretty well for herself. Part of the successful strategy seems to have been presenting everything she’s done with a relative subtlety, at least compared to other current pop artists. This approach continues with her new release Guitar Songs. Though being marketed as an EP, it actually only contains two tracks. And the straightforward title is also a bit of a misnomer, perhaps suggesting that Eilish is diversifying her trademark sound with a bit of bona fide rock ‘n’ roll. Actually, the new songs (both co-written and produced by her regular collaborator, her brother Finneas O’Connell), “TV” and “The 30th,” reflect the same style that she’s known for; the differentiation (and connection to the title) is that they both happen to be played on an acoustic guitar.
“TV,” just shy of five minutes long, is indeed acoustic guitar-based but couldn’t be mistaken for anything but a Billie Eilish song. The lyrics suggest someone who just wants to watch TV in order to escape reality (“I put on ‘Survivor’ just to watch somebody suffer”) but finds it impossible as those realities are everyplace (“The internet’s gone wild watching movie stars on trial // While they’re overturning Roe v. Wade”). The song ends with the lyrics, “Maybe I’m the problem” repeated numerous times, before giving way to “Baby, I’m the problem” (emphasis added). However, as the song fades, a chorus gradually comes in singing along with the repeated line, with the song perhaps suggesting that we’re usually not as alone as we think we are.
As solid and heartfelt as the song is, “The 30th” is probably the better of the two. The song opens with a pleasant arpeggio, but that’s quickly revealed to be a mask for the song’s theme, which is addressed to someone possibly in a coma (!) who’s clearly been the victim of a near-fatal mishap (“Sometimes, you look the same // Just like you did before the accident… // Woke up in an ambulance”), but then spends the final section of the song contemplating the “what if?” scenario (“What if this had happened on a different day?”) which people often torture themselves with, not even necessarily after a serious accident but just when life doesn’t turn out the way we hope it does.
It’s hard to imagine that in terms of her career Billie Eilish would have done anything differently up to this point, and this release is no exception. Whether she’s planning to continue exploring her trademark sound through acoustic guitar – perhaps with that even ending up as the focus of her next full-length album – remains to be seen (Eilish hasn’t come so far in such a short time by being predictable).