Album reviews: Marvin Gaye, Ex Hex, and Billie Eilish

There's big buzz about When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? from 17-year-old Billie Eilish. Publicity photo. There’s big buzz about When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? from 17-year-old Billie Eilish. Publicity photo.

Marvin Gaye

You’re the Man (Universal)

The follow-up that never was is finally here—and honestly probably sounds better now than it would have in 1972. You’re the Man could hardly have matched the gorgeously sighing melodies, elegant textures, and memorable aphorisms of What’s Going On, and when it tries, it suffers in comparison. Leadoff track “You’re the Man–Pts. 1 & 2” comes off like “Mercy Mercy Me Pts. 3-7,” as Gaye catalogs the issues of busing, unemployment, taxation, inflation, and gun control without exploring them—and “The World is Rated X” sounds good, but bogs down in the same ground. Faring better are the more tuneful “Where Are We Going?” and the more focused “Piece of Clay,”a gospelly plea for parental tolerance featuring Eddie Hazel-like guitar. Eventually, the broadsides give way to the bedside, or maybe the couch in the den; rather than the sex-forward “Let’s Get It On,” we get relationship jams like “We Can Make It Baby” and “You Are That Special One.” You’re the Man is a hodgepodge, though with Marvin Gaye singing, it’s inevitably a lovely one. ***1/2

Ex Hex

It’s Real (Merge)

Although Mary Timony had already left behind Helium’s knotty brilliance for the more straightforward Wild Flag, the blend of pop melodies and classic indie crunch on Rips, Ex Hex’s 2014 debut, made for a nearly jarring turn to easy pleasures —but a welcome one, because the pleasures were so plentiful and seemed so easy. So why the five- year wait for this follow up? Maybe because bassist (and former Charlottesville resident) Betsy Wright has been making worthwhile waves with her own Bat Fangs. It can’t be pinned on stylistic exploration; It’s Real sounds like Rips redux, trucking in the same themes and hooks, although the new songs are generally slower and longer, sometimes to their detriment. Timony’s guitar heroics don’t quite save “Rainbow Shiner,” and the suitably yearning melody and chords on “Want It To Be True” linger a bit too long—which may be the point, I suppose. But tracks like “Diamond Drive” and “Cosmic Cave” provide breezy rushes reminiscent of the debut, and “Talk to Me” is a killer closer, timeless without being trite, sparking hopes it won’t be another half-decade before Ex Hex-the-third. ***1/2

https://exhexband.bandcamp.com/album/its-real

Billie Eilish

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
(Interscope)

I can’t pretend to grok Billie Eilish’s intense appeal to what I’m forced to call without irony “the younger generation.” And the hype of older bizzers mostly comes off as a desperate byproduct of their obliviousness to what’s cool these days. But even ignoring the (premature) pronouncements of greatness and the (plausible) predictions of hugeness, it’s easy to see why industry hopes and YA identifications are both pinned on the 17-year-old Eilish. She’s an L.A. kid and a total pro, as is her co-conspirator and brother, Finneas, a veteran of “Glee” who co-wrote and produced Asleep. His minimal, dampened electro perfectly frames Eilish’s crafty vocals, as she molds an underpowered voice to occupy assorted personae and get them over as her various psychic facets, as opposed to masks. Right off the bat, the cocksure, almost bluesy “bad guy” flips to the weary, cautionary drug tale “xanny,” and while Asleep finishes on a trio of downers, there are also private dance tracks and some muted glitter along the way. Eilish would be one to watch, if everyone weren’t already watching. ****

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