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Finneas - Optimist (Album Review)

Thursday, 21 October 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

On his debut album, Billie Eilish’s producer and co-writer brother reins in the gothic electronica of his superstar sibling’s records in favour of easy listening ‘70s yacht-rock cut with 2020s digital arrangement. The result is largely unconvincing.

One reason for that is the relative tedium of the overall sound. Finneas has a workable, pleasant pop voice and is a competent composer, but the lyricism on ‘Optimist’ feels underdeveloped despite its packaging. This is music that has been machine tooled to appeal to tweens and, cringe-inducingly, that includes songs that pretend they aren’t.

An example is The Kids Are All Dying, a song that lands halfway between The Script and Electric Light Orchestra.

The lyrics attempt to detail some of the challenges of modern living—carbon footprints, drugs, lying politicians—before dropping a chorus that seems to wail at the hopelessness of it all: “How can you sing about love when the kids are all dying?”

The message seems clear, and yet the underlying melody of the sung lyric shanks its shot. It's uneven and confusing songwriting. Happy Now? has similar commentary. “Take a drive around town in my douchebag car,’ he jokes. But is he joking? This is a song about enjoying the fruits of being rich while referencing absurd privilege and ennui…right? Right? Dunno—not sure Finneas does either.

It feels harsh to constantly relate Finneas to his almost supernaturally popular and successful sister, and yet it remains relevant to do so. Compared to his output there, this music is limp, risk averse and, frankly, pretty lame. The songs will garner handsome radioplay and then be completely forgotten in five years’ time.

All of which seems a shame given that he is clearly a producer of talent and poise. But therein lies the crux of the matter. Watching Billie conquer the world from the sidelines, he may have queried: ‘How hard can it actually be to be the one in the spotlight?’ The answer is ‘harder than you think’.


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