Lily Allen - Sheezus

Sheezus (iTunes Special Edition) * Lily Allen * Pop * May 6, 2014

It has been a while since we have heard anything from Lily Allen here in the United States, but she has been on her grind  Her single Smile managed to get a lot of attention from both pop and urban radio alike and managed to propel her first album Alright, Still to 2.6 million sales worldwide.  Her second album It’s Not Me, It’s You also sold incredibly well and showed an immense amount of growth for her as an artist.  In 2011, after taking a hiatus from music, she formed her own record label and began recording her third album.  Allen is known for a sardonic wit that can sometimes get her into trouble.  Still, she manages to have music that is both fun and full of meaning, making her a rarity on the modern pop scene.

Now she has released her third album Sheezus.  Can she offer the same fun while giving us a little food for thought?

1.  Sheezus – The opening and title track gives us Allen getting ready for her return to music.  Starting off a little slow, the production here features a heavy bassline with synth overlays and ticking drums.  At first, it seems like this is an odd way to start off a “comeback” album, but you realize that the more subdued production allows the listener to focus on the words.  The concept is a good one; she is ready to make her return to the music scene and, while acknowledging the strength of other female singers in the game, stating is not willing to sell herself short and be second best.  Second best will never cut it for the divas/Give me that crown, bitch/I wanna be Sheezus.  Allen has a soft but strong delivery, vocally, that makes this song work.  Too much bravado in a song like this can make it come off as overconfident; her delivery makes the everything sound like she is stating facts.  It is a good start for the album; letting us know where she is coming from.

2.  L8 CMMR – This song gives us a more upbeat production that has the bouncy synth and danceable beat, but is ultimately pretty generic.  Lucky for Allen, the lyrics make up for the deficiencies of the beatwork.  This song pays homage to her husband’s prowess in the bedroom, declaring him the best lover she ever had.  The lyrics are cute and fun on the surface, but each line is packed with double meaning.  The vocals here are hit and miss as the autotune on the verses is overbearing at times.  It is a shame, too, because Allen’s delivery is confident and could have made the verses more enjoyable.

3.  Air Balloon – Like many of Allen’s songs, this song has two possible meanings.  The first is that it is about pure escapism; being free from the things that hold her down.  The second (and more likely) meaning is that she is deriding the current state of pop music and wants to rise above it.  Unfortunately, the generic production of this song does not rise above as it sounds like many other pseudo-EDM tracks that play on the radio.  Her vocals here are good, however, as her tone is sarcastic but playful.  The chorus is especially good because she managed to create the vocal sensation of rising with controlled sliding notes.

4.  Our Time – We are greeted with more generic production as Allen begins singing a song about partying the night away.  The production is actually somewhat at odds with the lyrics as there is a soaring quality to it that does not fit the subject matter.  You could argue that she is being sarcastic but, unlike her other songs, that does not come across in her tone.  Her vocals don’t add much to the song either, as her quiet vocals almost get lost in the beatwork.  Not really memorable and highly skippable.

5.  Insincerely Yours – This track offers the first production that stands out from the rest of the songs thus far, but is still somewhat generic.  It might catch some attention, however, because it sounds like it using a segment of the three-sample mashup from Warren G’s Regulate.  This song is all about the celebrity culture of either being famous for nothing or for an unknown reason.  This song is one that got her in trouble because she name-dropped a few celebrities (although she says it’s because their names fit the rhyme scheme).  Her vocals are smooth and match the production well, with the humor seeping in and out with appropriate measure.

6.  Take My Place – This is the first track where the production seems to have been made expressly for the lyrics it is teamed with.  A heart-wrenching track about her miscarriage, Allen’s vocals sound as if she barely has any energy left while she allows the track to do her screaming for her on the choruses with its hard drums, wailing guitars and increased volume.  A brutally honest moment for the singer, she articulates something that many people would be afraid to admit to thinking: I’d give everything I own/If someone else could take my place.

7.  As Long As I Got You – The production for this one comes completely out of left field as Allen decides to throw listeners a taste of zydeco.  The zesty music is a nice change of pace, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album.  This is another honest song from Allen about all the things that she loves about her husband.  The lyrics here are some of her best, giving those concrete yet personal details that make up the core of most relationships.  Her voice here is nice, but she has a little trouble distinguishing herself from the more energetic beatwork.  At times it seems like she is shouting to be heard.

8.  Close Your Eyes – It is becoming very clear from the subject of some of these songs that Lily Allen really loves her man.  This song has her again paying homage to her husband, but this time it’s how sexy he makes her feel and how she repays him for it.  The production is nice, with a smoothed-out R&B/jazz feeling that fits the mood that the song is trying to convey.  Allen’s vocals are almost flawlessly integrated with the track; her low-key tones achieving a seductive quality.  The only downside is that the last note of the song is autotuned to death and breaks the mood.  Despite the misstep, this is definitely a standout track for the album.

9.  URL Badman – Allen decided to take shots at all of her haters who write about how much they dislike her from behind their keyboards (yes, I appreciate there is no small amount of irony here).  The lyrics, again are the standout, as she manages to get her point across while being funny and engaging.  Oddly enough, the thing that most upscale bloggers dislike her for is a lack of substance, but she tends to put more thought into her lyrics than most pop artists.  The sarcasm of her vocals is well placed and appropriate and the smoothness of her tone makes her seem quite unbothered by anything anyone might say about her.  The production does sink back into its generic mode, though, with the exception of a bleating sheep in the background that becomes louder as the song goes on.  An odd addition that will leave most listeners wondering if she’s calling these bloggers a dirty name on the sly.

10.  Silver Spoon – For those of you who don’t know, Lily Allen is the daughter of extremely well-off British renaissance man, Keith Allen.  Many have criticized her for the fact that she has not had to struggle to pursue her chosen career like many of her contemporaries.  This song is basically about the fact that she is proud of where she is from.  A little more defensive than her average song, she still manages to have fun with the concept and take shots at herself in the process: Sucked dick, got signed to a major/I’ll do anything just to entertain you.  The production of the song is a pulsing EDM/urban combo that you would have heard on American radio a few years ago, making the beatwork sound a little dated.  Her tone is also a little flat, as she sounds like she wants to have attitude but can’t quite muster it vocally.

11.  Life for Me – This song is about how Allen sometimes misses her life as a single, childless woman despite being content with her life as it is now.  There is an honesty here that some people, especially women, would not want to admit to; that she liked to party with her friends and, sometimes, she’s not in the mood for sex with her husband.  The Caribbean production of this song is a nice change of pace and fits the concept of the song well, as she is telling us her life content but just as hectic.  Her laidback tone is also a nice fit as it manages to sound both sated and wistful at the same time.  Definitely a standout track.

12.  Hard Out Here – The first single from this album and the first new track from Allen in nearly five years, the concept of this song takes on how women are objectified (and self-objectify) in pop music.  Her traditional, sarcastic tone is a great fit her and her vocals work well by making you think, just for a second, that she might be serious.  Unfortunately, the production is the same generic EDM/pop that has dominated much of the album.  While it worked when the song was a one-off single, it makes the song fade into the background a little when teamed with the other tracks.  This is also the last song on the standard edition, which is a little odd because it does feel like there should something to follow it up.

13.  Wind Your Neck In (Bonus Track) – A little lesson in ‘cross-the-pond idioms; “wind your neck in” is British slang for “mind your own business.”  Allen is essentially telling people to get out of her business and just focus on what she wants them to, her music.  There is nothing particularly standout about this song as it sounds like a leftover track from her second album that had a very heavy EDM presence.  The lyrics are straightforward and her vocals are the traditional Lily Allen style.  Not a bad track but not memorable either.

14.  Who Do You Love? (Bonus Track) – This is a great track about feeling like the inferior child to her parents.  Allen is asking her mother to accept and love her despite her faults and stop comparing her to her younger sister.  There is a brutal honesty to the track because, again, this is ground that most people fear treading because they might be called a bad person.  The production is a wonderful complement to the lyrics, sounding forlorn but with an underlying sense of strength that can be seen in Allen herself.  Her vocals, while not all that different from her usual delivery, work very well here and sound like a pleading child looking for a parent’s love.  A standout track all around.

15.  Miserable without Your Love (Bonus Track) – This is a lovely track about re-entering the world after a tragic event.  She is telling someone that despite all the things that she feels she has going for her, she feels unsure of herself and needs support to help her pull through.  Who she is saying this to can be taken one of two ways; she’s either talking to her husband or her fans, or maybe both.  The production is somewhat generic, but the emotion behind the lyrics and the vulnerability in Allen’s voice is what makes this track.  The emotionality strikes a chord in the listener that his hard to deny.  While it is not a standout, it is definitely a track that most people will remember.

16.  Holding on to Nothing (Bonus Track) – There is something very…British about the production of this track.  Upon hearing it, people who are familiar with 80’s UK pop will find something nostalgic about the rhythms and harmonies.  While that might not fly in her home country, it sounds like nothing else on American radio and nothing else on the album, making it a very welcomed change.  The concept is about having been burned in a previous relationship and being afraid to enter a new one.  The lyrics are straightforward but relatable and will have people singing along.  Allen’s vocals, however, are a little wispy and cannot entirely compete with the background vocals.

17.  Somewhere Only We Know (Bonus Track) – Appearing on a soundtrack for an animated movie about a bear and hare, this remake of a song by Keane  is probably one of the best on the album and the most out of place.  The lovely poetic lyrics about finding a place where two friends or lovers can belong are touching a deep.  The production is simple and sweet; a tinkling piano teamed with soaring strings touch the heart.  Allen also manages her most dynamic vocals here, with each couplet having its own texture and resonance through her variation of tone.  It just doesn’t seem to fit the direction of the album to this point.  Despite it’s out of nowhere appearance, it is still a standout track.

I have to say that, for a comeback album, this is a little so-so.  While Allen’s lyrics are more than solid, the production can leave the listener feeling a little disconnected from the material.  Allen’s vocals are not always up to the task either, making some of the songs feel like they might be better served in other hands.  Still, this is not, by any means, a bad album.  Allen has a point of view that is interesting and her way of approaching certain subjects is highly refreshing.  The deluxe edition is definitely worth it as the album feels incomplete without the additional five songs, but I would recommend having a listen to the full project before purchasing.

Rating:  3.0