Monday, 5 May 2014

#MusicMonday #ESPspotlight Review: Lily Allen, 'SHEEZUS' Take The Wheel...

Let me first preface this by saying, that at no time in my life have I EVER been a Lily Allen fan. She is back however, and she does want to claim pole position. Stripper or podium? Well I guess that's your decision, based on her last video - though of course that would imply that you entirely missed it's intended context. Score 1 for her, but I maintain - never been a fan.

In fact, I would go so far as to say, that it's always mystified me why anyone would like her as an Artist - period, because as far as I can tell, she's never really 'sung'? That being said; I listened to her latest album, 'Sheezus' - out today - with an open(ish) mind, after catching wind of the controversy surrounding her album preview track 'Hard Out Here' some months ago. Fully expecting that to have been a one-time interest, I pressed play on the iTunes preview, and waited (dreaded) patiently for the title track to begin.

To say 'she talks a good game' is to withhold her dues unfairly. Yes, you really read that right. Lily Allen has all of the wit and sarcasm of a modern day British comedian, with the punchlines to boot (who knew?). Skirting on the border of Religious sacrilege, as much as you want to take an adamant stance against her use of it, the further you get into Sheezus, the greater your recognition of the analogy becomes. In fact, you take greater offence at her use of the 'Diva' term in relation to a list that haven't earned the title (I suppose one of them can just slip through the net, but you'll have to turn a blind eye, and refute all knowledge after the fact, on the grounds of authenticity). Honest and real, the lead song is a BIG opener, with a background vocal that (annoyingly) gets under your skin, there's no denying that 'Sheezus' (the album and the monikered onecame out swinging.

The first of three odes to her hubby, 'L8 CMMR' is a laugh in your face, tongue-poke of a track, over the first of many carnival-ready beats. Greg Kurstin's production is as influential as his co-lyricism that I soon learn, is the real enticement behind Allen’s music. I say this recognising early on, that had the autotune not been so heavily applied, you might be forced to accept that the yummy mum actually had a decent set of chops on her. Alas, the tool that made T-Pain famous is used in drenching abundance and the question of whether she can really sing, or is just a British female equivalent remains unanswered, whilst her lyricism paints amusing caricatures.

'Air Balloon' had a fair-weather effect on me. After the strange set up of the first line (Somebody remind me where I am Miami or Timbuctoo / Did I ever tell you my Uncle's monkey ran away from the zoo?), and the interesting analogies in the first two tracks, I was expecting a twist on the old Alice in Wonderland tale, but didn't get it. What it did do however, was provide an opportunity to examine her vocalslead and background, up close and personal. Once done, I’m shocked to admit that I liked them! No contender for Mariah, but her simple, sweet melodies are catchy, and absolutely no-one can say that her wordplay isn’t leap years ahead of many of today’s biggest names. It’s rare that any musician today surprises me, so for that, and those harmonies, Ms. Allen earns a C+ on this one.

'Our Time' is a tribute to the after party life. The games don't have to stop just because the club's alcohol licence does; everyone find yourself on her doorstep, under the agreement that you B.Y.O.R. (Bring Your Own Rizla). The difference between Jenny and Lily from the Block, is that you actually believe the latter is Straight Outta Dalston. She looks like a girl from East (I think we used the same hair shop in Ridley market, next door to the shopping centre?) She talks like a girl from East, and as such, I buy her as the demographic that she represents without even trying. Note to Jenny: that’s how it’s done babe.

That time segues into this one with finesse. 'Insincerely Yours' is the standout track of the album for Yours Truly. Throwing that curveball again, there is a seductive element to the track that has you thinking that you know where it's going before she’s even opened her mouth. Fed up with the fake friends at celebrity parties and events, where you'll find an abundance of 'DJs' only slightly more transparent than the silicone cups they're sporting (*ahem* Made In Chelsea 'stars' *ahem*); Allen doesn't need to name check anybody. She does, but she doesn't need to. Setting the scene is more than adequate to voice what gossip rag readers are already thinking, long before she gets to the line about them all just being there because the price was right. Brilliant satirical look at the fluff of famous fabulosity.

You would absolutely have to have no heart if you did not empathise with her in 'Take My Place'.  She does not need to allude to more than what went on behind the scenes, for you to know the track is about the tragic, very public loss that she suffered between her last album and this. You feel her grief as if it were your own, and you're reminded why this woman is a draw for so many. Her candour, and willingness to go there, to the brave well she must've had to draw from, to enable her to put such a horrible experience down on wax, and share it with her listeners. It speaks volumes to her character.

After that engulfing sadness, it's no surprise that Allen takes things back upbeat; but don't let the line-dancing ditty, 'As Long As I Got You', dupe your ears. If you listen to the lyrics, there is a serious survivor's tale being told. It’s a Thank You to her partner for helping her through the tough time she spoke of in the previous track. Clearly a hellish ordeal, it’s obvious to see the appreciation that she has for him, and their relationship.

'Close Your Eyes' is a 'Get Your Freak OnanthemLily Allen style. Smooth and sexy, the only disappointment is once again overusing the vocoder in places where to be honest, the melodies are far too simple for even her range not to reach. It really is a shame in an otherwise thumbs up scenario, because she sounds good and comes up trumps lyrically – there are no other faults with it.

'URL Badman' makes me think of a Richard Bacon documentary I saw on BBC3 a few years ago. Hitting back at the cyber trolls with nothing better to do than visit public forums and start inane verbal warfare for attention, they are a filthy breed that Allen takes apart through song – and I for one, say good on her for calling out the sick and pathetic overgrown children with nothing better to do.

'Silver Spoon' doesn't let the other side of the scale wriggle off the hook either. Aimed at the Spencer Matthews' of this world (well if it's not then it should be); this one shines a humorous light on those 'poor', hard done by prep school boys 'living rough' on the pampered side of the street. Though the topic is a good one, and she takes great aim, I’m afraid this won't be one of the tracks that come to mind first, or at all, from this album.

Unlike 'Life For Me', which is another of the album’s best. Funny, and completely relatable, Allen talks of missing the carefree life as a responsible wife and mother, whilst not really missing it at all. Happy and content with the baby sick on her shoulder, it’s an unsure ode about the grass not really being greener on the other side of the street, so much as just a teensy bit shinier for a fleeting second, when the sun hits the blades just 'so'. Brilliant track from start to finish, A+.

The standard album version finishes with Hard Out Here - the track that caused controversial waves earlier in the year, for taking on the long-maligned 'objectifying women in music videos' battle. Satirical and sarcastic; shots are fired not just at men, but also anyone na├»ve enough to believe that the entertainment game has become any easier for a female in the spotlight in 2014. The comedic approach is enough to make you forgive the too liberal use of autotune that, by this point, you can safely say, has proved three things:

1. That the overuse of the tool in her production is somewhere in the region of a child drowning their chips in ketchup, until all you see is red

2. Someone should send her and Greg Kurtin to Autotune Anonymous. If one doesn't exist, it should, and -

3.   That limited as her range may be, Lily Allen can actually sing, but her range is never actually tested, because her music is arranged to encourage, and even flatter, her style of undersinging. And that is a real injustice to her talent.

Parental Advisory - Contains Explicit Content

By the time you wade through the jokes and punchlines, you can be forgiven for forgetting that we never really hear her take her range anywhere, although it unfortunately does nothing for the frustration of waiting an entire album to find out. The deluxe edition also comes with five bonus tracks: 'Wind Your Neck In' for the unsolicited opinions from the likes of, well, moi, I guess! 'Who Do You Love', another painful slice of relationship truth, where Allen actually outdoes herself both lyrically and vocally (but stillketchup!).  'Miserable Without Your Love' – a slow ballad perfectly suited to her dreamy, soft tone. 'Holding On To Nothing' – a more up-tempo track with an equally serious topic in the forefront, this time, about the fear of accepting a new love, when she’s yet to let go of the pain from losing the old. The last is the Top Ten hit 'Somewhere Only We Know'. Truth be told, it was hearing this track that piqued my interest in her last year. I liked the song and vocalist so much, that I was shocked to learn that it was the same Lily Allen of 'Smile' fame.

Her ability to water down touches of Ska and Dancehall for a Pop palette was also a revelation that I discovered in the course of listening to Allen’s third album. Her sound is blended well, and is one that, once you come to know, even marginally understand, is not one that could easily be mistaken for someone elseOverall, it's a refreshing exercise to meet the grown up lady that’s come back for a third round in the ring, on her own terms. She’s back to fight, and just might solidify herself with a permanent space. Whether she survives the fight for the number one spot or not, one thing is for certain - it will be an interesting watch.

Lily Allen's 'Sheezus' is out now from all Independent retailers.

Regular Readers, you know what time it is, but for you newcomers, this is the part where I ask you to share your thoughts in the Comments Box below; was I too hard / soft on Lily? Why? What are your thoughts on her album? Let me know, the box is Yours!

Until the next...
ES ;)