Lily Allen's 'Sheezus': Track-by-Track Review
In 2006, Lily Allen bounced onto the scene like a cartoon bomb painted to look like a beach ball. Her debut, "Alright, Still," was equal parts sunshine and snark — a ska-pop album about skeevy pick-up artists, sexually dysfunctional exes and all the sordid stuff going on just below the surface of respectable society. It was the album No Doubt would have made in 1995 had Gwen Stefani been a little more jaded and a whole lot funnier, and it made the U.K. singer a huge star.
Allen's 2009 follow-up, "It's Not Me, It's You," wasn't as buoyant or bold, but the electro-pop edge affirmed her versatility as a songwriter. After the record's release, Allen announced plans to take a hiatus, and in the years that followed, she got married and had two children. Amid all the changes in her personal life, a lot has happened in popular culture, and in the lead-up to comeback album "Sheezus," fans have been dying to know what this sly social critic thinks of the world.
The short answer: she's okay with it. Allen can still be prickly — she's suspicious of celebrity and Internet culture, and unapologetic when it comes to her privileged background — but "Sheezus" is no castle-storming, culture-bombing return. She sings of domestic contentment and wanting to float off into the clouds, and musically, she's slightly out of touch, taking cues from 2010 M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend records instead of the fierce, cutting-edge Kanye West album referenced by the title.
"Sheezus" is Allen's most uneven record yet, but it's also her most mature. Next time, she should sharpen up the sarcasm or go full-on introspective, and it might not hurt to try a producer other than longtime collaborator Greg Kurstin. In the meantime, there are plenty of reasons to praise "Sheezus." Scroll down to read our track-by-track review of Lily Allen's latest.
There's no mention of M.I.A., who rose to fame on this type of dubby electro-pop, but that's because Allen is too busy sardonically comparing herself to other female superstars like Rihanna, Beyonce, Lorde, and Lady Gaga. Allen is pretty sure she can tangle with today's female hit-makers, but she shows she's only human by revealing a hint of fear — and by discussing her menstrual cycle.
2. "L8 CMMR": With the exception of maybe Gwen Stefani, no one else is writing dancehall-tinged pop bangers about the joys of married life — at least not ones this good. Allen's man is a "bad motherf---er" and a tiger in the sack, but he's also a good dad and faithful husband. If she's nervous about her place in the pop landscape, she's plenty secure about where things stand at home.
3. "Air Balloon"
Everything about this song is light and airy, and as Lily sails off into the heavens, she's not interested in dropping bombs or looking down on haters; she's simply enjoying the view.
4. "Our Time"
This euphoric pop jam is brought to you by Lily's babysitter. "And we just wanna dance the night away / We don't give a damn what people say," she sings, prepping for one of those mega-wicked evenings of debauchery that one can only pull off in their 20s.
5. "Insincerely Yours": Musically, this slick yacht-hop tune plays like an ode to Warren G's "Regulate," and that's fitting, since Allen breaks us off some straight-G honesty: "I'm here to make money, money, money." She's got no love for social media or that 22-year-old in the DJ booth who thinks she can rock a party, but the singer will smile and nod — so long as the check clears.
6. "Take My Place": By the album's near-halfway point, the pressure's finally getting to Allen: "How can life be so unfair? / I can't breathe; in fact I'm choking on the air." This track is rather suffocating — a bland, bombastic ballad you'd expect to hear on some epic movie soundtrack.
7. "As Long As I Got You": Maybe all Allen needed was a trip to New Orleans: this Cajun-spiced, country-fried, half-baked tune is about three percent as fun to listen to as it probably was to make, but at least Allen's smiling again. As she stomps her boots (those mean ones from the "Sheezus" album cover) to the Bo Diddley beat, she either doesn't know or doesn't care how ridiculous it all sounds.
8. "Close Your Eyes": Here's Allen's bid for Official Summer Jam of 2014. "I'm gonna hypnotize you, then I'm gonna yank your chain," she promises, mixing the pop songcraft of Mariah Carey with the sex poetry of Color Me Badd. You guessed it: this one's irresistible.
9. "URL Badman": Allen's taking on the Internet again, and while it's pretty dorky to name-check WordPress in a song, it's great to hear her get all worked up. In a hundred years, this sing-songy thudder will help scholars understand what smart people really thought about the digital revolution.
10. "Silver Spoon": Over a hip-hop beat, Allen makes the decidedly un-hip-hop move of admitting that she comes from money. And so what? Her poshness hasn't made her polished or polite, and this filler track is anything but an apology.
11. "Life for Me": Lily's recording hiatus roughly coincided with the rise of Vampire Weekend, and if this track is any indication, she's way into the smarty-pants pseudo-Afropop of the band's first two records. If she'd picked up VW's third one, she'd know they've since moved on, but hey, she's singing about having a midlife crisis. The music should be a little passé.
12. "Hard Out Here"
Allen is 100 percent right to challenge the music industry on its gender-related double standards, and as MC Hammer will tell you, you can never go wrong rebooting Rick James' "Super Freak." The trouble here is the lack of subtlety. Allen is too strong a lyricist for lines like, "If you're not a size six, then you're not good looking / Well, you better be rich, or be real good at cooking," and this one feels more like controversy bait than genuine social commentary. At least "Hard Out Here" got people talking, proving once again why pandering is never a bad play.