We all know Finneas. He’s the production wunderkind behind the world’s other pop wunderkind, his sister Billie Eilish. He has some killer songwriting credits, a sterling reputation as a producer, and even a few solo songs to establish his own identity outside his family tree. Now, Finneas is taking the greatest leap forward for his own individuality with his debut studio album, Optimist.
I would have bet a million dollars that ‘The Kids Are All Dying’ was a sample of Elton John’s ‘Bennie and the Jets’, but the credits don’t seem to give him any songwriting acknowledgement, so I guess it’s all original? It sounds pretty damn close, and the lyrics that take a “hey guys all sides are bad, okay” approach that isn’t quite as insightful as Finneas may seem to think it is. One thing I did get a kick out of is him calling himself “whiter than the ivories on these keys”. A little bit of humour in your self-awareness goes a long way.
I just wish it went longer on Optimist. For the most part, the songs contain a very restrictive feeling to them, like every single mistake or errant note was voraciously scrubbed out of existence. There’s no room to breathe, no looseness to let the self-reflection actually mean anything.
The impact of listing all his imperfections is lessened by the fact that Finneas is so meticulous in his production that imperfections never get the chance to crop up in the first place. You can’t play both sides, and the result feels disingenuous. Every time he calls himself a douchebag or tries to make himself the butt of the joke, it doesn’t feel relatable, it feels weird.
That’s not to say he’s not clever with some of these observations, or that the songs don’t contain impressive arrangements, or that Finneas himself is even a bad artist. On the contrary, he has obvious talent on his own, separate from his more famous role as his sister’s producer and co-songwriter.
Especially on tracks like ‘A Concert Six Months From Now’ and ‘Someone Else’s Star’, but on most of the material, his attempts to connect on Optimist feel hollow. ‘Happy Now?’, ‘Medieval’ and ‘The Kids Are Dying’ feel like he’s talking at us, not to us. It works when he actually focuses on the specifics, between he goes for the blanket statements on fame and the so quickly alternates between wanting us to laugh and him and wanting us to feel sorry for him
Overall, Optimist plays as a contrived and awkward debut from an artist we already know. He should get major props for creating a work that is stylistically distinct from his other work, mainly his Billie Eilish productions, but “different” certainly doesn’t equate to “better”. We all know Finneas, but the window into his world that Optimist really wants to be is too blurry to make anything out.