Review Summary: One small step for pop music = one giant leap for Lily Allen.
If there’s a theory that can be substantiated properly from musicians highly publicised as being “troubled”, then it’s to stay productive musically and give people something real to talk about. Amy Winehouse is a case in point- with no new material after nearly three years, media outlets once in her praises have done nothing but focus on her every move, from blonde hair to visits to the corner store. Courtney Love, another highly-publicised trainwreck, has been better known in the last few years for drunken rants on her blog and losing/regaining custody of Frances Bean than her music (still no word on her sophomore solo album). And, of course, today’s central focus: miss Lily Allen.
In the past three years since the release of her debut album Alright, Still
, the daughter of Keith and the sister of the infamous Alfie has made several transitions in terms of her public image. They can’t all be listed here, as a review can only go for so long, but a highlights reel includes - deep breath - foul-mouthed pop starlet, drunken festival nightmare, controversy queen, purported alcoholic, purported druggie, bitchy blogger, public enemy #1, pink-haired party-goer…you get the idea. And why do we know all of this? Simple; there’s been no new music to distract us from it all!
So, imagine the relief for fans and tabloids alike as Allen’s sophomore emerges in 2009. Titled It’s Not Me, It’s You
, Allen has bravely stepped up to the pallet alongside “The Bee” of The Bird and The Bee, Greg Kurstin. This is bold, spacious, chameleon-like pop music with a distinct, scornful twist that adds a little sourness to the sugar and spice- an almost idiosyncratic contrast which, once again, works well; but this time, it’s with flying colours.
When dissecting It’s Not Me
, it’s a matter of what has changed and what has stayed the same in terms of the Lily Allen sound. Each tally on either side contributes to what gives the record its strength: Allen’s vocals, as an example of what has stayed the same, are as charming, honest and subtly vicious as ever; very much in accordance with the lyrics they are paired with. The predominant idea of the album is to deal, in some kind of humourous or clever way, with a fresh batch of issues that Lily feels the uncontrollable urge to speak out upon. It’s now, however, where the differences come into play.
Instead of simple city life, missing a boyfriend or taking revenge on some wanker, it’s all fame-and-fortune spite (“The Fear”), keeping addictions at bay (“Everyone’s At It”), and even somewhat of a political agenda (“Fuck You”
). “22”, for instance, deals with the fascination society has gradually developed with youth, in particular for females, and why a woman in her thirties is more or less obsolete- “It’s sad that it’s true/How society says/Her life is already over”. Elsewhere on the record, “Him” is a daring religious commentary, questioning Christ-following extremists if they truly do live like their saviour. “Do you think his favourite type of human is Caucasian?/Do you reckon he’s ever been done for tax evasion?”, she says with the perfect amount of world-weariness to allow the humour to work to her favour. Think of it as Joan Osbourne on crack. It’s biting, ballsy and uproarious fun.
A highlight comes in the form of “Who’d Have Known”, presenting an honest intimacy in both lyric and music; the likes of which Lily has never before seen. Her character is a confused lover, left wanting more from a close friend with which a lot of time is spent. There is a certainty that there is an attraction between the two- “Today, you accidentally called me ‘baby’”, sings Allen with a sense of lovelorn awkwardness- but neither know properly just how to move it forward. The keyboard-driven musical structure, which is decidedly low-key, assist the song’s storytelling flow along at just the right speed. Sure, this kind of things-between-people number would have likely been at home on Alright
. Even still, it presents a different side to Allen that touches a nerve- something, one can hope, will reoccur in the future.
Another tick in the differences box comes in the form of Kurstin’s production. A lack of that old, old wooden ship, diversity, unintentionally held back the potential of Alright, Still
in terms of its musical content. Nearly every track was based around reggae-tinged boppiness, which despite suiting Allen’s vocals, could only last for so long. It’s Not Me
is a different story entirely: you’ll be hard pressed to find many similar-sounding numbers here, a total credit to the wonders Mr. Greg Kurstin has worked.
Lead single “The Fear” moves from isolated guitar picking right into twirling electro-pop bombast in a damn-near-seamless fashion (a tad reminiscent of his own band’s musical stylings). Its successor is “Not Fun”, with an irony-laden cowgirl sway and a rollicking beat that likes both kinds of music- country and
western. The album’s sound lets an array of acoustic guitars, banjos, whistles, synthesizers, beats and even a little vocoder fill the void. A bold and somewhat adventurous versatility throughout the album keeps Allen sounding fresh and Kurstin, with any luck, in high demand beyond this release.
Lily Allen has, currently is, and seemingly always will piss people off. However, this has truly worked in her favour as somewhat of a tribute to everyone that she has; and It’s Not Me, It’s You
looks already to be one of the best pop records of the year. Mark this as her complete transition from cheeky ladette to a whole new kind of pop star.