The queen of no-holds-barred, controversy-starting, mud-slinging, instantly hummable pop is back.
Lily Allen is back after a four year stint out in the wilderness of being a wife and mother. Fortunately for the pop world, her sabbatical is over and she has unleashed an aggressive, ballsy, imperfect pop record with a name that is inspired by and even mocks a now-famous Kanye West album title, into the world.
Lead single ‘Hard Out Here’ announces the album’s intentions and upon its surprise release, caused both an outpouring of celebration for Allen’s return and her fierce feminist anthem, and also for racist subtext in the accompanying video. The song itself is an electropop blast with Allen using a radio-unfriendly chorus and Auto-Tune to mock the way women are treated in the world of music. Clearly, she’s not pulling any punches on Sheezus.
Title track ‘Sheezus’ takes a multi-layered swipe at other famous pop divas including Beyonce, Gaga, and Rihanna – and while the song seems to be a vicious attack against the other queens of pop, examining the lyrics takes it further; Allen is turning the rhetoric of critics and fans alike and projecting it back to shine an uncomfortable light on the listener (a theme explored in full in ‘URL Badman’, a catchy ode to the cyber-journalist). This is further reinforced during the heavenly middle-eight in which Allen tells her followers to worship her, in a nod to the fan groups (Little Monsters, Katy Cats, Heartbeats, and the Beehive amongst many) who dominate social media.
The rest of Sheezus is full of the same lyrical bittersweet pills in a sheen of sweet pop sugar – ‘Wind Your Neck In’ is a vicious assault against critics in electropop beats worthy of a trendy commercial while ‘L8 Cmmr’ is a Diplo-esque track about love that pairs perky production with shockingly sweet lyrics; ‘Holding On to Nothing’ is about insecurity and sounds confidently relaxed, and ‘As Long As I Got You’ is an album highlight, combining perfect pop sounds and the confessions of Allen that she really, truly loves her husband and they’re perfect together. Awww.
Allen even manages a solid ballad or too – the lovely and melancholic ‘Take My Place is about passing on the pop mantle and all the burden it requires handling, and is head and shoulders above other ballads on the album, which hugely suffers from a lot of fat that could have been trimmed – the dull, sluggish ‘Insincerely Yours’ and ‘Close Your Eyes’ are key offenders here.
The main problem with Sheezus is that it seems unsure of what it wants to be – in tracks like the lightweight and fluffy ‘Air Balloon’, it seem as if Allen has become a devotee of producing aural sweetness and light, while tracks such as ‘Our Time’ and ‘Silver Spoon’ show Allen as a pop celebratory figure and an aggressive defender respectively. While Allen’s feminist credo has never been questioned, the album is certainly not cohesive and suffers from too many songs treading over the same themes.
And yet, somehow, it works.
Sheezus isn’t Allen’s finest record (that would be 2009’s ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’), but it offers a beacon of hope for the future of pop; Allen has more than enough talent and when songs work, they shine – ‘Air Balloon’ is full of light radio-friendly bubbliness, ‘L8 Cmmr’ is a danceable ode to true love, and the title track is a scathing satire of the state of modern pop music. It’s a good album on its own merits, but considering this is a comeback record for Lily Allen, it’s a bit of a triumph. Here’s hoping the best is yet to come.