Lily Allen has such a sweet voice, but as fans of the British singer know, her words are lethally tart. She may sound like she’s all puppies, rainbows and unicorns, but there’s a dark sense of humor running through almost every song.
On “Sheezus,” her first album since 2009’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” Allen takes pot shots at her fellow female artists (or, more specifically, those who try to divide them), online trolls, D-list celebrities, and anyone else within arm’s reach. Her trenchant, sharp social commentary often hits its bullseye, but it doesn’t always make for an album that feels like it will have a long shelf life.
In fact, “Sheezus” often feels so of-the-moment that it threatens to evaporate into thin air at times. Having said that, few artists seem to understand their place as well as Allen: she is completely confident as she comments on the world around her, whether she’s taking the piss out of others and delightfully playing the mean girl (a role she does remarkably well) or showing her own battle scars. She and producer Greg Kurstin wrap her vocals around a number of different melodies and beats here for one of her more varied albums stylistically, but it always comes back to her acid-tongued delivery and a bit of a feeling that she’s not so sure she’s ready to jump back into fame’s fray.
Below is a track-by-track review:
“Sheezus”: Allen addresses her return to music on this breathy track and assesses her contemporaries, including Katy Perry, Beyonce, Lorde, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna. The lighthearted melody belies a cut-throat lyric where she systematically declares why she’s better than all the others and deserves the crown of “Sheezus," while taking those to task who insist on pitting female artists against each other in a way that isn't done with male artists. Or maybe, as she jokes, maybe she's just moody because she's about to get her period. Take it as a smack down of Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and Allen’s fun attitudinal track where she’s really defending the fact that more than one woman can rule the pop roost at a time with tongue planted clearly in cheek, but it doesn’t always wear well. GRADE: B-
“L8 CMMR:” Built around The Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” “L8 CMMR” has the infectious spirit of early Allen, like “LCN,” with a fun synth-based bubbly beat. GRADE: A-
“Air Balloon”: A sweet song about riding high in her air balloon sounds like a clap-along track for a kiddie album that the mother of two will likely never make. Shake it as you sail on through the clouds. GRADE: B-
“Our Time”: Let’s go out and “lose our minds” and dance the night away. That’s the theme on this layered, melodic track about giving over to the night. Here it sounds sweet and dreamy, whereas the same tune in the hands of Ke$ha would have been “Tik-Tok Part 2.” GRADE: B
“Insincerely Yours”: Allen goes for a smooth, retro R&B feel in this tune where the protagonist’s sole goal is to make money and anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded. It’s a biting take on celebrity appearances and would seem to also be a take down of Paris Hilton and her DJ’ing ways. “We’re all here because the price is right,” she sweetly sings. It’s a brilliant admission that most celebs will never make or risk seeing the promo dollars dry up. GRADE: B
“Take My Place”: One of the album’s few ballads and a tune delivered free of irony. Something bad has happened as she sings, “I’d give everything I own if someone else could take my pain.” We don’t find out what has caused the distress, but it’s real with a true sense of anguish, despite the building uptempo melody. GRADE: B+
“As Long As I Got You”: Accordions and a bluegrass feel are not what one expects from Allen, but she and Kurstin delve in with aplomb on this fun, toe-topping flirty track about her husband. It’s a rollicking, upbeat diversion from the rest of the album. Irresistible. GRADE: A
“Close Your Eyes”: There’s something almost disconcerting about Allen’s sweeting singing “you can ride me like a bike” and saying she’ll be Beyonce to your Hova and tells her lover to “park it right up behind” on this mid-tempo seksi time tune with an click track and auto tuning. GRADE: B-
“URL Badman”: A lush piano anchors this track about a mouth-breathing basement dweller, who can’t get out of his parent’s house, but unlike all the other trolls, he tries to convince he has deeper cause and conviction. It’s fun social commentary, but doesn’t hold up in the long run. GRADE: B-
“Silver Spoon”: Thumping, electronic track about life not being fair, seen through the eyes of someone who has been born into privilege and has no intention of having sympathy for the other side. GRADE: B-
“Life For Me”: Set to a lilting, breezy island beat, Allen discusses her feelings of discontent that creep in every now and then. “It’s a bit early for a mid-life crisis,” she sings, as she wonders why she sometimes feels like she’s missing out. GRADE: B
“Hard Out Here”: A fun spoof of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” rebranded at “It’s Hard Out Here for a Chick,” that tackles everything from the pains of not being a size 6 to dealing with a misogynist world that values women for their looks and nothing else. Works as both a social commentary and a song. GRADE: A-
“Interlude”: Exactly what it says: a 1:38 instrumental interlude between the end of the regular album and the bonus track. Given how the bonus track doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album, it’s understandable, but not necessary. GRADE: C
“Somewhere Only We Know”: A non-ironic remake of Keane’s gorgeous 2004 breakthrough hit. Unlike the rest of the album, Allen isn’t trying to make some sardonic wisecracking statement, instead she is paying beautiful homage to an already sweet song. Sounding as if she’s sprinkling the song with pixie dust, Allen is at her most vulnerable on this remake. It’s an unguarded window into her that the rest of “Sheezus” dares not reveal. GRADE: A