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Billie Eilish Dares to Write (Twisted) Love Songs

Eilish’s 2019 debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” mapped gothic nightmares, adolescent obsessions and lingering traumas along with an occasional giggle. Her second, “Happier Than Ever” in 2021, reacted directly to the attention, shock, exploitation, stalking, exhaustion and newfound power that success brought her.

“Skinny” is a hushed update on Eilish’s superstardom. “Am I acting my age now?/Am I already on the way out?,” she sings, along with thoughts on her body shape, finding nontoxic love, her sense of isolation and a resigned reaction to social media: “The internet is hungry for the meanest kind of funny/and somebody’s gotta feed it.”

Yet even as “Skinny” connects back to “Happier Than Ever,” it’s a transition — a parting glance as Eilish moves from her very individual situation toward her version of more generalized pop songwriting.

For an artistically self-conscious hitmaker like Eilish, the proverbially “difficult” third album calls for self-redefinition, rethinking the past and challenging fair-weather fans. On “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” Eilish and Finneas further expand their sonic territory, reveling in electronics and plush subtleties, while they alternately honor and warp pop structures. At the same time, Eilish takes on a more conventional assignment: to write songs, particularly love songs, that don’t have to be all about her.

The album is a concise, 10-song set, a deliberate contrast to prolix streaming-era albums like the ones released lately by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. Eilish chose not to put out advance singles, and she has urged fans to listen to the album as a whole, like an analog-era LP instead of a track list to be cherry-picked. Just in case 10 songs seems ungenerous rather than disciplined, Eilish makes a pre-emptive wisecrack; tacked onto the end of the last song, “Blue,” a seemingly casual Eilish asks, “So when can I hear the next one?”

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