Review Summary: Packing hiphop, trippy pop and a mellowed motherhood into an album that still manages to surprise
Lily Allen is back. After her excellent 2009 album It's Not Me, It's You
she announced to retire, but retired from retirement because she found it hard not to be able to practice her creativity. Her comeback was feverously anticipated, as most people are getting tired of the shallowness of contemporary pop music, with Katy Perry and the wannabe profound Lady Gaga taking the lead.
The big surprise for us who were eagerly awaiting the biting sarcasm of Allen to return was that two of the four singles, as well as the Girls
-featured 'L8 CMMR' seemed to be an exponent of this shallow pop culture rather than a critique of it, and Allen has since said that the better stuff would be coming on the album, funnily titled Sheezus
, a nod to Kanye West. It does.
The album opens with title track Sheezus
. It packs exactly what could be expected from Allen. A critique of the very Katy Perry and the late postmodernist blabla of Lady Gaga we were moaning about. Allen introduces herself as 'Sheezus': an exponent of pop culture unafraid to be attacked for the others' sins, the bottom bitch of pop music. The minimal-influenced hiphop track is built around a striking vocal sample and has got a chilly, downtempo feel. The beats are punchy and airy, and yet the lyrics are always on the front.
is the opposite of Not Fair
: it's about her husbands great abilities in postponing and "bringing it all day". It's a restless, cartoonish song with a load of autotune Britney Spears might be envious of. It is quite tacky, but it sticks. Right after comes second single Air Balloon
which also is catchier than it was on the first hearing. Although it's not the strongest piece of songwriting, both its trippy lyric, its M.I.A.-mocking "na-na-na-na" and its lighthearted beat make it an airy, summery song.
, a night-out anthem delivered with a light, somewhat melancholic sarcasm continues the synthpop fare of It's Not Me, It's You
and has a lovely melody, but the album doesn't seem to really get up to scratch until Insincerely Yours
, which, with a more down-to-earth approach to the ways of the media than its counterpart The Fear
, states with a bang that Lily's here to make money. It's got a nonchalant R&B attitude with some funny chords put into it.
The at first muffled sound of Take My Place
breaks into a climax about the tragedy of miscarriage. It's a personal song without irony, which is loud, powerful and emotional. As Long As I Got You
has got a folky feel to it with its accordeons and guitars about her man. The lyrics are unsophisticated, the song is just three-and-a-half minutes of good fun. Close Your Eyes
is soft porn with a few weird chords and a hilarious lyric about how prepared Lily is to get "into [her] leathers".
The final quadriptych of songs is the highlight of the album. The URL Badman
is a total bash of adolescent boys blogging and thinking their tech's got the world to a bubbly beat and a reverbed piano sample. The lyric with its abstract sentences about concrete subjects packs its punch and Lily would most certainly win the ring fight she was talking about on Sheezus
. Silver Spoon
is about how luxury isn't necessarily luck and her indifference shines through the materialism on exhibit. Musically it's brash, choppy pop. Life for Me
is gentler and once again about the contemporary online life and trying to catch up, feeling isolated. It's got a nice electronic bossa-nova feel to it.
Finally Hard out Here
, the lead single, sarcastically sneers at modern pop culture, critics who talk about weight and appearance rather than music and message, and the importance of being assertive in this landscape. And my, is she still. The catchy ska piano motive, the distorted beat and the sweary, catchy refrain work much to her advantage.
All in all, the incredible lyrical punches of her first two albums are largely absent. There ain't no "How on earth could I be any more obvious.", but then, this record may be a tad more hip-hop (or even alt-hiphop) oriented and at times feels a little more through-composed. The music sounds undeniably current but with a few unique sonic touches: the muffled and reverbed beats and piano accompaniments make the album spacier, less brash and more submerged than both Alright, Still
and It's Not Me, It's You
- which at times is a good thing, at other times you'd wish for a bangy Everyone's At It
or Back to the Start
The poppiest tracks ([i]L8 CMMR, Air Balloon]/i]) are sometimes quite heavy on autotune effects, to the extent you'd almost think she'd lost her voice. It's good to hear that she hasn't on the bonus track, a cover of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know
which is obviously totally out of tune with the rest of the album, but it's a beautiful performance to submerge yourself into.
Still, Allen knows how to catch the audience with this album although her now-accustomed adulthood mellows her sarcasm. Musically this might be the most interesting Lily Allen album and lyrically it has its moments, but not as much as 2009's It's Not Me, It's You
The hilarious deluxe edition album cover includes:
Divide et impera; quidquid Latine dictum altum videtur (Divide and reign; whatever is said in Latin is taken more seriously')