Release Date: May 6, 2014
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Despite what you may be led to believe, Lily Allen stopped being a pop star some time ago. Instead, she’s morphed into something far more interesting: a meta-diva. Those that were drawn in to the ramshackle boiling pot of influences that made up her 2006 debut Alright, Still knew that for a radio siren, Allen showcased a songwriting ability that was more acutely developed than that of her paint-by-numbers peers.
A friend of mine referred to Lily Allen’s music, not as music, but as “comments.” Makes sense. Over the course of three records Allen has laid out a few solid miles of comments—taking jabs, delivering satire, begging for attention—sort of like a lot of modern music critics. On Sheezus—her third full-length, and first in five years—Allen continues her cheeky ruminations over good-timing dance pop (and occasional pap).
Lily Allen's third album, Sheezus, is a hot mess of thorny contradictions that finds the U.K. singer sifting the post-mortem of that oft-discussed millennial-manufactured calamity: the quarter-life crisis. That she does so without vacuous navel-gazing or the obnoxious whine of entitlement is reason enough to welcome her back into the fold. Few artists have the ego to use the title of their comeback to riff on that of the most fearsomely dark, avant-garde “pop” albums ever made.
The first I knew of Lily Allen’s glorious comeback was last November, thanks to about 17 consecutive columns in The Guardian, each more tedious than the last. They were all discussing her new song, ‘Hard Out Here’, and especially its video. I had a look – 1-0 to Lily Allen – and guess what, I sorta liked it. It’s funny and catchy, especially the chorus with its deliberately dodgy autotune.
Lily Allen's brazen attitude and candid persona have become constant fodder for headlines and with her latest arsenal of songs on her third album, Sheezus, you can expect the ink won't dry any time soon. Allen's first release in four years has already drummed up discussions over racism, feminism, and the pressures of fame, all of which she manages to rattle off over 12 tracks of readymade earworms. .
It's been five years since Lily Allen's last album, a period in which the U.K. pop diva got married and had kids. But fear not – she's still the same firecracker who turned heads in the mid-'00s with eclectic, post-hip-hop tunes and bullshit-slaying lyrics. The brilliantly titled Sheezus has loads of great punch lines ("I don't give a fuck about your Instagram or your lovely house or your ugly kids," she sings on "Insincerely Yours").
Lily Allen has always been outspoken. It’s part of her neverending charm; she’ll say what others either can’t or won’t, with blunt aplomb and an endearing smirk. For a return to the spotlight, after a familial focus, she swanned back via John Lewis’ Christmas blaze of glory and a Keane cover. Everything fell right into place – again – for arguably Britain’s most interesting and essential popstar.
On this album, Lily Allen approaches pop music with a hip-hop sensibility. And it's not just because the English singer enlisted Kendrick Lamar and Drake collaborator DJ Dahi to produce the skittering standout title track. A clever lyricist, she'd make quite a good rapper. And on Sheezus, Allen takes on her contemporaries - Gaga, Lorde, Riri - in hip-hop's competitive spirit while also betraying some of her signature insecurity and singing about her period.
As you doubtless know, these are tough times for the professional music journalist. Titles are closing, circulations falling, editors increasingly steadfast in the belief that you can get it all done by people who don't want paying. And now, to add to the rock critic's manifold woes, the appearance of Lily Allen's third album seems to bring with it yet another threat to their continued livelihoods: the artist who not only puts out out new material, but handily provides a critique of it as well.
A few weeks ago, Lily Allen released a single called "Sheezus", from her new album of the same name. She begins the song in a weary murmur, announcing that, after five years away, she's ready to step back into the spotlight and endure all the "embarrassing" comparisons she will receive to other female pop stars. Then, in the chorus, she all but invites these comparisons by name-checking some artists she seems to perceive as her contemporaries: "Riri isn't scared of Katy Perry's Roaring/ Queen B's gone back to the drawing/ Lorde smells blood, yeah she's about to slay you/ Kid ain't one to fuck with when she's only on her debut." "Sheezus" is a maddeningly catchy, deeply puzzling song.
At her best, Lily Allen operates just at the edge of a crowd, slyly and snidely passing judgment from a safe distance. That sense of remove remains on Sheezus, her overdue third album, but it's curdled. She's no longer an observer; she's an outsider longing to be inside. Blame it on her extended hiatus.
Review Summary: More Kim than Kanye.In a vacuum, Lily Allen taking up the position of matriarchal wiseass in pop music isn’t such a farfetched idea. Blessed with an acerbic wit equally disposed to flaying her own skin as well as all that of all the personalities who frequent the airwaves alongside her, Allen, on a short and sweet run in the ‘00s, turned relative weaknesses (her vocals, that middle finger of a public image) into singular strengths (lyrics skewering pop culture when Lorde was still in primary school, that middle finger of a public image). Allen’s was a persona that was able to live in the same pop stratosphere as Britney and Gaga while cheerfully poking holes in all their fabrications.
From the moment she ripped apart a good boyfriend’s skills as a lover on “Not Fair”, it was obvious that Lily Allen prized honesty, even if that honesty was brutal, judgmental, or uncomfortable. She made a name for herself by crafting liveable, memorable pop songs that didn’t care if they weren’t polite. The flip side of pop-punk, Allen was punk-pop, in attitude if not in music.
Lily Allen’s third album arrives following an odd publicity campaign that’s mostly consisted of her apologising for it. When a fan tweeted that her first new material in five years was “docile pop rubbish”, she agreed, saying her label wouldn’t support “the better stuff” on her third album. In a way it validates lead single ‘Hard Out Here’, a well-intentioned critique of the industry’s subjugation of women whose message was lost beneath its racially dubious video.
God bless Lily Allen. She says and sings the inflammatory things other pop stars probably feel but would never voice aloud. Since emerging in 2005 from the once-fertile soil of MySpace, Allen has been pop music’s equivalent of an Internet troll: She pulls the pin on a grenade and then slinks out of the room with a sly smile on her face. The British singer and songwriter uses that tactic to delicious effect on “Sheezus,” her first album in five years and first since motherhood and marriage.
Beware the third album, otherwise known as the Decider. Among would-be career artists, it's the make-or-break release that separates adult from child, evolving creator from one-cycle wonder, the luckily timed from experienced, focused musical connector. Prince's "Dirty Mind," Jay Z's "Vol. 2 .
Pop has always been a self-serving and thankless taskmaster. Modern pop certainly demands a lot from its female starlets these days: looks, sass, a few fashion campaigns and a photo call at the Met Ball. You may not necessarily need a good voice (hello Ke$ha) but you do have to make sure that your songs aren't the kind that make the average listener want to shove an arm up their rectum for light relief.
It’s probably fitting that the title of this record is a bit Weird Al Yankovic, because Lily Allen’s own style of topical songwriting has always placed her closer to novelty act than firebrand. There’s just enough evidence that she has a decent ear for a pop tune scattered across Alright, Still and It’s Not Me, It’s You, but the defining characteristic of her output has always been her appetite for acerbic satire. Unfortunately for Allen on that score, though, her glaring inconsistency leaves her compromised.