Key Tracks: “URL Badman” “Hard Out Here”
Months before Lily Allen’s third album even came out, it had already created some controversy. Her music video for lead single “Hard Out Here” was criticized for it’s use of black dancers as props, failing to convey the song’s satire against the use of people of color in things like music videos. No one can really know for sure if Allen was sincerely aiming for satire or just going for controversy – and that’s always been her style. The brilliantly named “Sheezus,” at it’s best, pries on a lack of subtlety. It gets just as direct as Lily Allen’s first two albums, but it doesn’t always stick.
After the release of her second album, “It’s Not Me, It’s You” in 2009, Allen announced her unexpected retirement. On “Sheezus,” her comeback album, she directly addresses it twice, in two of the best songs – “Sheezus,” a boastful song about her comeback and the strength of female pop singers right now in general, and “Life For Me,” a surprisingly honest song about transitioning into a more normal life after having a child. Otherwise, it’s a lot like she was never gone. Feminism, sex, loneliness and awful men are all covered here. And like before, traditional pop songs are unpredictably peppered amongst fun ones. The mixing doesn’t work as well this time, with some transitions not really fitting and the balance tipping too far into the traditional side.
“Sheezus” suffers from this imbalance. The album’s bookends – “Sheezus” and “Hard Out Here” are big, calls to arms with witty lyrics and deep implications. But they feel like they don’t quite fit, the result being trying to start controversy just for the sake of controversy. Allen’s music has seen it’s share of controversy in the past, but it’s always had a point, and that point isn’t as defined on this album. Still, Allen’s wit and directness occasionally shine through. “L8 CMMR,” about her husband, is about exactly what you’d expect. And “URL Badman” takes on the worst kinds of internet men – “When I’m a big boy / I’m gonna write for Vice” and “I don’t like girls much / They condescend me / Unless of course / They wanna play with my willy.” Songs like these show that Allen hasn’t lost her touch at all.
The album has more pop-based music than before. Her first two albums benefited from various instruments, but it’s largely conventional here. “Take My Place” has a chilling electro-rhythm, and “As Long As I Got You” is centered around an accordion, a nice adjustment after a few serious songs. “Hard Out Here” also has some EDM beats, but it’s a little strange given that it’s the album’s last real song. “Sheezus” is otherwise a little close to a traditional pop album, musically, something Lily Allen usually tries to avoid.
So for a comeback album, “Sheezus” stands it’s ground. It’s inconsistent, sometimes too tame, sometimes too controversial, sometimes finding the right path. Lily Allen is doing Lily Allen as always, but “Sheezus” isn’t as strong or defined as her previous albums. It’ll satisfy fans, and it’s great to have Allen back. “Sheezus” is only passable, but when it comes down to it, it’s a lot better than having no new Lily Allen album at all.
For a better listen, go for a version that has a bonus track, a cover of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.” She’s covered Keane before and both are beautiful renditions.
-By Andrew McNally