Review Summary: Sheezus runs the gamut between the fantastic and the horrible and ends up being decent.
When an artist takes any long hiatus from the music industry and then releases new material, I am always interested to see where the music falls on the genre spectrum. Lily Allen’s third studio album Sheezus
finds her still working within the realm of pop but also trying to expand herself to different genres and push her music into new levels of complexity.
That being said, not all of this experimentation succeeds but the material that does really hits well. The title track in particular provides the prime example of Lily’s evolution as an artist and the influence of other artists on her. The track’s name “Sheezus” alludes to Kanye West’s critically acclaimed sixth studio album Yeezus
, an album characterized by its innovative, minimalist production and biting, even at times blatantly offensive, social commentary. “Sheezus” takes its cues from West backing Lily’s voice with trap-inspired drum patterns, staccato ‘ah’s carrying the chord progression, and a booming bass line. Lily’s lyrics and melodies in “Sheezus” are not to be disregarded either. She coos her lines in a sing-song voice, beckoning the listener to let her be a pop icon. In the chorus, she name-checks several artists, seemingly dismissing them as docile and ineffective. However, upon closer examination, Lily is really complimenting them on their different styles of pop. A cosmic bridge unfolds grandly, filled with spacious synths and Lily Allen pleading for you to let her be Sheezus. It isn’t long, though, until the song dives back into the midtempo grind of the first section. All of these elements combine to create a hypnotic opener to Sheezus
. A general note to listeners to this album: wear headphones or at the least earbuds. A song like “Sheezus” will sound boring and empty without the resonant bass line that simply doesn’t register through tinny laptop speakers.
Despite the album’s title, the rest of the album bears little resemblance to Yeezus
. Startlingly bombastic fanfare immediately follows “Sheezus”, ushering the listener back into Lily Allen’s old world of endearingly friendly electropop with the songs “L8 CMMR”, “Air Balloon”, and “Our Time”. These three songs follow the same relative formula: all of them feature euphoric choruses where Lily soars upward while a well-crafted instrumental churns away behind her, broken up by a bridge where the beat takes a break for about sixteen measures before coming back in for a final triumphant refrain. That isn’t to say that these songs are bad. “L8 CMMR” is wonderfully reminiscent of an old video game while the tinkling piano and echoing handclaps of “Air Balloon” paint a beautiful picture for the song’s theme. The lyrics are ultimately these songs’ downfall. They are about love, escapism, and partying in that order. These songs aren’t groundbreaking but then again I doubt that Lily Allen intended them to be so.
The rest of the songs on the album are hit or miss as Lily Allen tries to hit every genre target possible. The funky bump of the RnB song “Insincerely Yours” is contrasted with her darkly satirical lyrics that she’s “only here to make money” in the relationship and that she doesn’t “give a f*ck about your Instagram/About your lovely house or your ugly kids”. “Silver Spoon” clips along with a fiery trap beat by Greg Kurstin and a gloriously executed melody by Lily Allen. Expertly placed falsettos and chopped vocals elevate the song to one of the best on the album. The song "URL Badman" lyrically is a very satisfying takedown of the Internet troll, executed in the stereotypical favorite style of every Internet troll: dubstep complete with goat noises. However, musically, its repetitive structure prevents me from truly enjoying it. One egregiously horrible song on Sheezus
is "As Long As I Got You", a gratingly tiresome country jig that forced me to do a double take at first listen. Virtually no part of this song is appealing in any way. I truly hope that this is Lily Allen's parody of the bland and almost comical genre of modern country music; otherwise, this is quite possibly one of Allen's worst musical blunders ever.
The final two songs “Hard out Here” and “Somewhere Only We Know” best sum up Lily Allen and her best qualities. First off, “Hard out Here” is the epitome of Allen’s satirical lyrics, biting a chunk out of the issue of women equality by addressing the issue and also to an extent empowering women with its dismissal of the word “b*tch”. This message is anchored by the best song on the album. The melody, the instrumental, the lyrics; it’s all there. Not only that, but it also completely captures the essence of Lily Allen: fun and energetic, but with a real message about real people. It makes sense why this is her most successful song from this album. “Somewhere Only We Know”, the album closer, is Lily’s softer side fully realized. This song is breathtaking from beginning to end. Lily Allen has perfected the art of floating on a note; her hushed delivery of the verses of the Keane song is beautifully sad. There is a little interlude in which the chord structure modulates and it adds an atmosphere and character to the cover that completes the imagery of the song’s theme. Plaintively moving into the final chorus, Lily gives one last call out in longing for a place of peace and quiet as the equally stunning arrangement swells behind. After this moment of catharsis, the music fades and the album ends.
So, is Sheezus
as revolutionary as its Kanye West counterpart? No. Is it Lily Allen’s best album? In spots, yes, but as a whole, no. Is it worth a listen? Yes.
Hard Out Here
Somewhere Only We Know
Best Song That Wasn’t A Single: