Album Review: Lily Allen, “Alright, Still” (2006)

Seems like the British Invasion is seeing a resurgence. From Corinne Bailey Rae and Amy Winehouse to Snow Patrol and James Morrison, plenty of British acts have made a successful journey across the pond lately. The latest to hail from the UK is singer Lily Allen.

I heard Allen’s music a few months ago, once again thanks to some friends over at Last.Fm. I was instantly drawn into her pop/ska sound (think early No Doubt, but a bit better), and soon I saw copies of her CD at Target and Best Buy stores here in the States. Produced by a handful of people (Pablo Cook, Greg Kurstin, Darren Lewis, Blair Mackichan, Mark Ronson), and co-written mostly by Allen herself,Alright, Still is a fun and bouncy album, with great songs and catchy lyrics.

The album begins with the lead single, Smile. This was also the first song I heard by Allen, and I immediately fell in love with it. The track opens with saxophone and trumpet, giving the song a ska feeling right from the start. Allen comes in shortly after with the first verse, and begins to describe how distraught she felt after her boyfriend called their relationship off. But by the chorus, Allen becomes triumphant (“At first when I see you cry/It makes me smile/Yeah, it makes me smile/At worst I feel bad for a while/But then I just smile/I go ahead and smile”) and this song is the perfect anthem for anyone who’s ever been scorned in a relationship. Everything, from the bouncy melody, catchy chorus, and Allen’s light vocals make the song a perfect single and a great start to the album.

Knock ‘Em Out follows, and continues with a tongue-in-cheek direction lyrically. This time around, Allen sings about going to a club and getting “chatted up” by a guy whom she has no interest in (“Can’t knock ’em out, can’t walk away/Try desperately to think of the politest way to say/Just get out my face, just leave me alone/And no you can’t have my number/’Why?’/Because I’ve lost my phone”). The lyrics are both clever and funny, and though Allen co-wrote all of the songs on the album with several other songwriters, you still get the idea that a lot of her personality is present in all of her songs. Though the track isn’t as catchy musically as it’s predecessor, the lyrics make it well worth listening to.

Allen presents somewhat of a homage to her hometown in LDN (which is text speak for London). The song begins with Allen describing the sights of London, but then realizing that everything isn’t exactly as it seems (“Everything seems to look as it should/But I wonder what goes on behind doors/A fella looking dapper, but he’s sitting with a slapper/Then I see it’s a pimp and his crack wh@re”). However, the refrain has her singing, “Sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why?/Would I wanna be anywhere else?” The trumpet plays along in the background, giving the song an upbeat and carefree feeling, which works perfect with the lyrical content. Not Big has a sort of ska/reggae sound that works well. But despite the cheerful melody, Allen actually uses the song to sing about her failed sex life with an ex-boyfriend (“Yeah, let’s rewind, let’s turn back time to when you couldn’t get it up/You know what it shoulda ended there/That’s when I shoulda shown you the door/As if that weren’t enough to deal with /You became premature”).

Friday Night is another up-tempo song about Allen getting into a fight with someone at a club. The song isn’t very interesting lyrically (despite, or maybe because, of the fact that Allen drops the “c” word in the first verse; this and several other curse words and adult content have earned the disc a deserved Parental Advisory label), but again, the catchy melody and sing-a-long chorus make it worth listening to. The same can be said for Shame For You, which boasts another great chorus and fun lyrics (The song is about a guy who’s a bit too conceited, but the best line is in the first verse: “Oh my gosh you must be joking me/if you think that you’ll be poking me!”). Friend Of Mine is another reggae-influenced song, and for the first time on the album, I can actually say I’ve taken notice to Allen’s voice. Which is to say, that while her voice isn’t anything remarkable, it’s always pleasant; in this song, however, her voice sounds really nice and is the highlight of the song.

LilyAllen

One of my favorite songs on the album is Everything’s Just Wonderful. The song starts off describing basically how much life can suck (“I wanna get a flat I know I can’t afford it/It’s just the bureaucrats who won’t give me a mortgage/Well it’s very funny ’cause I got your f@#!ing money/And I’m never gonna get it just because of my bad credit”), which is the followed up with the sarcastic chorus (“Oh yeah, I’m fine/Everything’s just wonderful/I’m having the time of my life”). I remember being drawn to this song during the first listen; the chorus is similar to how I deal with all my problems- if you just keep smiling and pretending that everything’s fine, maybe things will be eventually, right? On a side note, even though I love this song, I find it a bit hard to believe coming from Allen. Her father, Keith Allen, is a popular actor in the UK, and it’s hard to imagine Lily ever having problems getting a flat when her entire family is very wealthy (the same sentiment has been expressed by many of her critics in the UK; she’s even been given the negative nickname of a “Mockney”- or someone who presents themselves as Cockney, but is really a middle or upper-middle class citizen).

Another favorite of mine is Littlest Things, which is actually the only song close to a ballad on the album. This time around, Allen reflects on a relationship that’s ended (“Sometimes I find myself sittin’ back and reminiscing/Especially when I have to watch other people kissin’…/We’d spend the whole weekend lying in our own dirt/I was just so happy in your boxers and your t-shirt”), and besides my own emotional attachments to this song, it really is a stand-out track on the album. Allen’s voice is once again lovely, and the simple melody (which samples Pierre Bachelet’s Emmanuelle in the Mirror andTheme From Emmanuelle) makes it a perfect song.

Take What You Take may be the album’s only misfire; cheap sounding production, and a chorus that sounds like a missing Spice Girls song makes it a mess and my least favorite track on the entire album.

The song that gets the award for being the most fun to listen to is easily Alfie. Sounding something like the music from an ice cream truck, the song is such a delight to listen to. Lyrically, the song is just as fun, as Allen pleads for her younger brother, Alfie, to grow up (and yes, Alfie is a real person). Lines like, “Now how the hell do you ever expect that you’ll get laid/When all you do is stay and play on your computer games?”, are hilarious and you have to wonder if Allen really has had these “little chats” with her brother before.

When Allen was touring last year, she began performing a parody of the 50 Cent song, Window Shopper in her live act, and a recorded version of it is presented here. Nan, You’re A Window Shopper is an amazingly great song. The lyrics, about Allen’s elderly grandmother are pure hilarity (“It’s funny how I come round your house and I’m 20/And I still have to wear all the presents you sent me…/So weary of the kids when their wearin’ their hoods up/And even if they smile at you, you think its a stick-up”) and she does the parody so well that she could even give Weird Al a run for his money.

The album ends with a remix of Smile, and as I’ve stated time and time again, I hate when remixes are tacked onto the end of albums. This one is no exception. Though the remix isn’t bad (the song is sped up a bit and there’s much more orchestration), it’s still a bit pointless.

Alright, Still is a breath of fresh air. Though Lily Allen doesn’t seem to have anything profound to say on her debut album, it’s fine; the disc is filled with fun and upbeat songs that you’ll want to listen to over and over again.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Smile
2. Knock’ Em Out
3. LDN
4. Everything’s Just Wonderful
5. Not Big
6. Friday Night
7. Shame For You
8. Littlest Things
9. Take What You Take
10. Friend Of Mine
11. Alfie
12. Nan You’re A Window Shopper
13. Smile

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WxDrVUrSvI]
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