Lily Allen - Sheezus
The title is dumb. I don't care from what angle you view it. Firstly, it sounds absolutely nothing like Yeezus. His industrial strength noise is only once even remotely touched on, the final track (unless you stumped up for the Deluxe Edition) entitled Interlude, a dark brooding piece of instrumental music that you probably attribute to the next artist in your playlist. Secondly, Lily Allen does not once portray the ego that has propelled Mr West to the heightest stratospheric levels of human existence (even if it is only in his own mind). More on that later. Thirdly, it isn't controversial enough to create any kind of media buzz. Lily Allen recording new music was enough to have the press in her back pocket. The title just served to cause a lot of headaches as journalists smacked themselves in the head in exasperation.
You see, Lily Allen may come off as slightly hard-nosed, incredibly sarcastic at times, and even unlikeable, what with her constant flitting between music and mummy-hood, fashion and acting, and this blatant push and pull between making music people will connect with and respect her for and making music that the masses will actually buy. Her record label problems may contribute somewhat to that, but Allen is in fact one of the most genuine characters in pop music right now. Actually, Sheezus makes much more sense than Yeezus ever did. We need Lily Allen. Desperately. We needed this record, and it was only until it came out that we understood just how badly she was missed. In a pop world gone ballistic, with Lana Del Rey at one end pouting in couture video clips and Miley Cyrus at the other flashing her labia all over the place, it's difficult not to get caught up in the whirlwind of craziness. Beyonce is in the most potent power couple in the history of music, Katy Perry can't sing to save her life, and Lorde is about two Samsung advertisements away from losing all credibility. Lily Allen is you and me. She is the middle class of the UK, despite her upbringing, 'So I went to posh school / Why would I deny it? / Silver spoon at the ready / So don't even try it'. Somehow it makes you relate to her more.
As always, it takes a couple of listens to get your head back around her personality. Opener Sheezus is either a deeply intricate swipe at her competition, an acknowledgement of their skill and prowess, or a complete dismissal of them on her way to 'Give me the crown bitch, I wanna be Sheezus'. She even descends in to a sort of Lil Wayne vacuum with her period references. You feel a touch apprehensive when the title of the next track flashes on your ipod. L8 CMMR. But DAMMIT she can write an earwig. She abhorrently utilises auto-tune, the beat sounds like a fysher-pykel creation and you can smell the bubblegum in the air, but when that chorus drops and her voice enters its pleasure mode you fall instantly under her spell. It's so difficult not to love these moments of pure pop brilliance. Insincerely Yours utilises a repetitive bridge that bleeds in to her double tracked chorus, tempered by her dead pan 'I'm just here to make money money'. Then on URL Badman some sort of mutant dubstep growls in the background as she stares straight down the camera and declares in her sweetest voice 'I'm a URL b-a-d-m-a-n and you're dead to me, I'm a broadband champion'. It's decadent, it's sugary, it's better than anything Britney has managed in years.
Unfortunately for her detractors, Allen has built Sheezus in to a sort of rubber castle. By fusing a few nuanced helpings of sarcasm with her more sweeping statements, she has done what Eminem did in 8 mile. She calls herself out before everyone else can, and the maddening thing is you can't really tell if she is being serious or not. Insincerely Yours is genius. She takes aim at celebrity DJs who care more about appearance than substance, and she throws subliminal hands at Beyonce, 'I don't wanna know about your perfect life / Your perfect wife and it makes me sick'. She uses Cara Delevingne as a poster girl for English socialites and tears her down with ease, 'Let's be clear I'm here, to make money money'. I mean.. How do you even start to jump on her for that? You could call her a child born in to privilege (she is the daughter of Keith Allen), but she already shuts that argument down on Silver Spoon. You could say she is wasting the music world's time with her comeback and that she her finger well off the pulse of the current pop landscape, but she already addressed that on Sheezus by claiming she is something wholly different to the rest of the princesses. You could say that she has spent the last few years indulging her every whimsy whilst everyone else who hasn't been born in to money has been working their ass of, yet her candour in Life For Me unhinges any kind of animosity you feel towards her, 'No energy left in me, the baby might have taken it all / Cause I've hit the wall'. How many mums are out there nodding their heads to this?
And no-one wants to be tarred and feathered as a URL Badman..
This is why Sheezus is so vitally important to music. No-one seems to be prepared to tell it how it is, mostly because no-one other than Allen seems to be truly living the way we are. All of our pop idols are spending their time doing insane world tours, vacationing in exotic locations, getting in fights in elevators at glamourous events. Meanwhile, Allen has been taking care of her two kids, dealing with the truly horrible stillbirth she experienced (including a stay in a psychiatric hospital), and being a loving wife. She's tried acting, tried her own show, tried designing, and whilst it is clear she has a talent for all of her pursuits, you felt her heart was never really in it. When she addresses the direction her life has taken on Life For Me, her statement of 'It's a bit early for a midlife crisis' is apt, but slightly misguided. I am sure most 30+ girls suddenly find themselves one day sat on the sofa, watching TV in the arms of their husband watching their beautiful kids when a cocaine memory crops up, or a boozy night out that ended in declarations of never-ending friendship rears its head. Her plea, 'Tell me I'm normal for feeling like this' feels completely redundant when viewed in the context of her album.
The elephant in the room at the annual music critic retreat is that Allen is an artist in a world where art can be demeaned and debased until it is stamped out completely. The heart-wrenching Take My Place, about that horrific incident in her past, can almost make you cry in frustration. A song like this needs a mournful tone, built around minor chords and deep receding strings. Instead she takes to it with her usual gusto, crafting a pop tune out of thin air. The final words sit uncomfortably, "How can life be so unfair? / I can't breathe, in fact I'm choking on the air / It's all over, I can see it in your eyes / Hold my hand, don't ever leave my side". That is not someone out of touch with reality, living a lavish lifestyle and unable to truly relate to the everyday struggle. That's a woman pouring her heart out, and it's as disarming as Sun Kil Moon's Benji, or Johnny Cash's staggering version of Hurt, or Scarface's verse on This Can't Be Life by Jay-Z. The fact that it almost sounds like a call to arms is the only misstep on the album, because it is not a call to arms at all. It is the desperate cries of someone who can't see any way out of the pain she is currently feeling.
Pop music is an odd thing. It exists entirely in its own bubble. It's so difficult to break in without slipping out the other side, yet if you are born inside it, it's almost impossible to fight your way out. Allen's bubble coexists with it, yet is entirely separate. Everything she touches is instantly listenable. Her previous work has always been honest and candid, even when she has been chasing the charts. Sheezus is no exception to the rule she has created for herself. It's 2014 and we needed another dose of Lily. We probably won't need another for a few years yet, but the way Miley and Bieber are going (and I class Justin amongst the pop princesses even if Lily doesn't), I might be knocking on her door in early 2015 with a microphone and Greg Kurstin held against his will.