It's Not Me, It's You
You have to admire Lily Allen for her originality if nothing else. With her last album, she essentially created a new genre of female singer-songwriters. None of her offspring have proven to be half as clever nor half as bold as she is; I can't see Kate Nash (right) writing a lyric that rhymes "wet patch in the middle of the bed" with a complaint about having "spent ages giving head." Her second album comes out later this year. Maybe she'll prove me wrong. But I doubt it.
Allen's first album, 2006's Alright, Still, was intoxicating in the early listens, but within a month, the ska samples and taunting lyrics grew tiresome. I haven't enjoyed the album since the summer of 2006, and I just cracked it open a few weeks ago in preparation for a concert. She's a little older now, and her words have found a nice balance. The lyrics I quoted before are from "Not Fair," a faux-country pop song about being in a relationship with a boy who's perfect in every way, but he's completely selfish in bed. In the song, Allen tries to convince herself that there are worse problems to have, whereas on Alright, Still, she would have thrown him out on the spot. The ambiguity makes it worth returning to again and again. She's even written some absolutely wondrous love songs, the best of which is "Chinese." Better yet, she's expanded outside of her own life, taking a (successful) stab at defining the times on the songs "Everyone's At It," "The Fear," and "22," which is probably my favourite song on the album.
Allen and her producer, Greg Kurstin, have chucked the ska samples, thank God, and replaced them with noisy bits of electro-pop. The musical weaknesses of her last album related to its immediacy, and that there was little to come back to find once the initial thrill of discovery had passed. While Allen took care of brushing up the lyrics, Kurstin had more fun with the synths, adding in fun touches all over the place. Listening for the Gorillaz influence in the background of "Everyone's At It," and you'll hear how this album was built to last.
The lead-off single, "The Fear," is the best pure pop song I've heard in years. A mocking narrative from the perspective of a materialist- yes, it is ironic, as Allen herself has noted that she is the person in the song-, it features a materialism lyric for the ages with, "It will be fine, cos I'm packing plastic,/ and that's what makes my life so fucking fantastic." You don't get that from Kate Nash either.