Billie Eilish’s third album is “Hit Me Hard and Soft.” Petros Studio

It feels too early to draw a bright pink line through Billie Eilish’s recording career, but do we really have a choice? Her obliterating ballad from last summer’s “Barbie” soundtrack, “What Was I Made For?,” felt so delicately inventive and deeply existential that it automatically split her songbook into before-and-after. So into the post-pink we go with “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” a new album that finds Eilish singing in exponentially more exquisite detail, making her melodized whispers work like steamrollers, roller coasters, pneumatic jackhammers, bombs bursting in air, hard and soft for real.

On its face, this is a breakup album about separating yourself from the people you love, including whomever you used to be. Eilish establishes the framework right away with “Skinny,” steeping in her demolishing “Barbie” tone, explaining how “21 took a lifetime.” If your reflex is to roll your eyes at the idea of a 22-year-old feeling old, try a little harder to remember how difficult those initial seasons of adulthood are, when you’re beginning to understand that your past is irretrievable. On top of that, Eilish’s loneliness sounds compounded by the faceless cruelty of this digital world she was born into: “The internet is hungry for the meanest kind of funny and somebody’s gotta feed it.”

The cover of Billie Eilish’s “Hit Me Hard and Soft.” Darkroom/Interscope Records

By organizing those gentle syllables in a descending melody, she sounds like a puff of smoke falling down the stairs. Somehow, it lands like the truth. Her singing is so considered, so precise, so emotionally dialed-in – yet, in ways that almost always require dialing back. In one fantastically subtle passage of “Chihiro,” Eilish locates more than three-dozen notes inside eight words – “Did you take my love away from me?” – as if identifying flower petals scattered in a breeze. Her brother, producer and songwriting partner, Finneas, underscores the understatement, allowing a disco bass line to flap around on its own while the drums go pitter-pat on the precipice of total absence.

So is “Chihiro” a disco romp or a lullaby? And is “Skinny” bossa nova or neo-soul? The genre-blending is central to this album, but it doesn’t feel like two siblings making fruit smoothies so much as allowing their dream states to overlap. Other songs on “Hit Me Hard and Soft” go through their style mutations in a more linear fashion. “The Greatest” starts in the coffee shop, then transforms into a Britpop festival at Walt Disney World. “L’Amour de Ma Vie” starts in the cabaret, then goes emo-Nintendo. It’s tempting to look for themes of transformation and evolution in the turns and twists, but Eilish’s voice holds the center. As a chaotic world makes its violent changes, she’s going deeper inside of herself – a tacit refutation of the chameleonic pop-progress narratives established by the Beatles, David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, all the way down the line.

Eilish isn’t monolithically sad, though. There’s an almost shocking playfulness to “Lunch,” with Eilish reciting a dirty, crushed-out inner monologue before finally admitting, “She’s the headlights, I’m the deer.” Fantastic. And then there’s “The Diner.” With Finneas making his synths bend like funhouse mirrors throughout, it’s hard to tell whether Eilish is joking around about the stalker’s fantasy she’s describing, ending the song in literal whispers as she mock-memorizes a victim’s phone number. Either way, (310)-807-3956 now joins 867-5309 and (281)-330-8004 as the most famous digits in pop music’s Yellow Pages.

And while those two cuts feel something like outliers, they still point toward this album’s fundamental question: Why don’t you love me? Eilish dives headlong into it during “The Greatest,” removing the emphasis from that question’s “you” and placing it entirely in the “me.” The comedown from the Oasis-in-Orlando mega-chorus goes like this: “Man, am I the greatest. God, I hate it. All my love and patience, unappreciated.” She doesn’t sound like a solipsist, or a egomaniac, or a brat. As ever, just listen to that voice. It’ll float you right back to the song’s title.

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