Before Billie Eilish was a star, she was already preparing to pass the baton to Dominic Fike. Three months before the release of her 2019 debut album ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’, Billie had this to say about the Florida native: “That is the baddest kid I’ve ever met in my life,” she told NME. “I think he’s slowly getting the recognition it deserves, so I’m pumped about that. Even if it gets fucking huge, it should get huger.”
By that point Fike’s debut EP ‘Don’t Forget About Me, Demos’, recorded while under house arrest, had been floating around on SoundCloud for nearly a year. The slick emo-pop of ‘3 Nights’ sparked a major label bidding war (eventually won by Columbia to the reported tune of $4 million), but the collection’s looser moments, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers-indebted ‘Babydoll’ and the lo-fi ‘Westcoast Collective’, were indicative of Fike’s yearning to be just like his guitar heroes. His brief stint in prison – for violating the terms of his house arrest – jammed the brakes on a truly stratospheric rise.
By the middle of last year, though, things were again building nicely for Fike. ‘3 Nights’ had become a hit in mainland Europe and a tour – which skipped the UK, where he is currently not allowed to enter – further cemented his prospect as a new alt-pop guitar hero for Gen Z. All the while he was recording his debut album ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ – a tongue-in-cheek nod to his somewhat tumultuous journey thus far – firstly in a remote cabin in the Colorado mountains and then in Rick Rubin’s feted Shangri-La studios in California, utilising some of Bob Dylan’s old gear (“his Wurlitzer or something”, Fike says in the accompanying album notes) while he was there. Meanwhile, a developing friendship with Brockhampton – particularly the boyband’s de facto leader Kevin Abstract – continued to established his name in the scene.
Fike’s CV has got some useful references from Billie and Brockhampton, but his debut stands up all on its own. Comprising of 14 scorching, razor-sharp vignettes – some scarcely a minute long – this is the sound of a songwriter standing on the top of their mountain, chest puffed-out and giving it the biggun’.
Those confrontational moments are spiky and fun. Opener ‘Come Here’, indebted to Pixies’ loud-quiet gothic grunge, is a gnarly 80-second flex packed with anguish and torment, while bruising indie-anthem ‘Double Negative (Skeleton Milkshake)’ is the sound of TV On The Radio meeting early Foals. This mood’s defining song, ‘Cancel Me’, is a snarling, fate-tempting riposte that suggests that Fike is already done with being the centre of attention. Its lyrics are not big, nor clever (“I hope they cancel me / So I can go be with my family / So I can quit wearing this mask, dawg / Tell the people kiss my ass, dawg) but, then again, those kind of public flagellations rarely are.
Though Fike chalks up his sound to his love of traditional rock acts – he cites Chilis guitarist John Frusciante as a particular hero – this 35-minute collection aligns him closer to another anti-rockstar of his day, Post Malone. Like Malone, Fike dips his toe in every genre possible, from party-pop (‘Chicken Tenders’, ‘Wurli’) to slinky R&B (‘Vampire’, ‘What’s For Dinner’), all of which comes with just about the right level of self-pity (‘Superstar Shit’). His dexterity – and awareness of when to duck out of a song and move on – ensures that this ride never goes screeching off the side of the road.
Much like Billie’s debut album, ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ is similar in terms of its success of building a mood rather than fretting too much about the details (or at least giving off that impression, anyway). Song structures come and go – if they ever arrive at all – and the album’s final third has all the charm of a band of pals kicking back in their local garage rather than a million-dollar golden goose being backed by a major label. These tender moments are charming — no wonder, then, that when he was asked by Apple Music recently about the origins of hazy highlight ‘Politics and Violence’, Fike simply stated: “I don’t remember when or where I made this song. When I look back on it, all that comes to mind is me in the chair listening to that beat loop for days on end.”
If he had it his way, you suspect that a part of Fike would prefer to be back in that Colorado cabin away from the glare of the world, noodling away the days into nothingness. But, as ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ proves, letting go and facing the music can sometimes be a wonderful thing.
Release date: July 31
Record label: Columbia