My motives behind listening to specific music differs from day to day. Sometimes, I listen to music because I want to get wrapped up in the lyrics. Sometimes, I listen to an album simply because it makes me want to dance. Other times, I listen to be blown away by the artist’s vocals. And every so often, I listen to an album simply to have fun.
Lily Allen’s music typically falls in that last category.
The London-based singer originally charmed me with her debut album, Alright, Still, in 2006, and I was calling myself a fan of hers by the time she released her follow-up disc, It’s Not Me, It’s You, in 2009. Allen’s enjoyable pop style and tongue-in-cheek lyrics are her strength and the disc is filled with plenty of fun moments.
The albums opens with Everyone’s At It, a flashy track about shattering the illusions people put up in society. Producer Greg Kurstin (who has also worked with P!nk and Kelly Clarkson), dresses up the track with a lot of ostentatious sythnesizers, and the cheery melody, juxtaposed with the downtrodden lyrics (“Why can’t we all all just be honest/Admit to ourselves that everyone’s on it/From grown politicians to young adolescents/Prescribing themselves antidepressants”) make somewhat of a weird combo, not starting the album off on a particularly high point. The Fear sounds like a sequel to Everyone’s At It, as Allen sings about the toxicity of Hollywood (“Life’s about film stars and less about mothers/It’s all about fast cars and cussing each other/But it doesn’t matter cause I’m packing plastic/And that’s what makes my life so f–kin’ fantastic”). The midtempo melody works a lot better, however, and the lyrics are much more cleverly written, practically causing the song to eclipse the one before it.
Not Fair starts off with a western vibe- the galloping beat easily sounds like theme music for a cowboy. However, the lyrics are far from what the melody suggests, particularly once you notice that Allen’s sweet voice is singing about her troubled sex life (“There’s just one thing/That’s getting in the way/When we go up to bed/You’re just no good/Its such a shame”). The song is reminiscent of a track from her debut album, “Not Big” and even if you haven’t been in this particular situation before (and even better if you have), you can’t help but smirk as Allen complains about her failure of a lover.
Another track that might be relatable to some is 22, which tells the story of a woman in her late 20’s, waiting to settle down (“It’s sad but it’s true how society says/Her life is already over/…Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder”). I can imagine this song being relatable to a lot of women around the same age, especially as you do watch a handful of your friends get married and settle down while you’re just on the sidelines waiting for your chance. The serious subject matter is again paired with a jaunty melody- even including finger snaps- and if you’re not in the mood for delving into your emotions (or perhaps just not the target audience for this particular track), it’s easy to just ignore the lyrics and pay more attention to the cheery tune instead.
The opening bars of the album’s third single sound like something from Sesame Street, but don’t let the bouncy piano fool you- from the title alone, you can tell that F–k You won’t be about teaching children the alphabet. Long before Cee-Lo Green made his song of the same name, Allen wrote this catchy pop masterpiece, which is simply about giving a big middle finger to all of her detractors. The sing-a-long chorus (which is mainly just the repetition of the f-word) is irresistible, especially if you’re in a foul state of mind. It’ll either put a smile on your face, or just further fuel your hatred towards the world- and either sentiment will feel great, depending on your mood.
Who’d Have Known is one of the few ballads on the album, but it’s still accompanied by a peppy beat. The track is also one of the few straightforward, affectionately written songs on the album, which tackles that awkward in-between period when you first start dating someone and before you actually define your relationship (“Are you mine?/Are you mine?/Cause I stay here all the time/Watching telly, drinking wine”). Again, the subject matter seems appropriate for Allen’s female, mid-to-late 20’s target audience, and I definitely remember relating to this song during a similar stage in my life. Chinese is another sentimental ballad, in which Allen sings of returning home to a lover or a good friend after being away on tour (“I don’t want anything more/Than to see your face when you open the door/You’ll make me beans on toast and a nice cup of tea/And we’ll get a Chinese and watch TV”). The relatability is again the best thing about the song- though none of her listeners have likely gone away on tour, we all know what it’s like to be away and miss someone back home, and more than that, know the comfort of just coming home to someone we love and doing something simple like curling up the couch together and having Chinese takeout for dinner. Allen’s vocals are particularly sweet and soft, and though she never does anything exceptional vocally, her tone is always pleasant to listen to.
Though the album has its strong points, it has it’s middle-of-the-road moments, as well. I Could Say is a dreary ballad about a bad relationship, and the biggest offensive the song holds is a lack of originality in both the sound and lyrics. Back To The Start is far too overproduced; the shrill synthesizers and electric piano sound awful together, and the sped up chorus detracts too much from the song’s content- Allen’s inferior feelings towards her bigger sister- which is actually quite interesting. Never Gonna Happen’s flamenco-inspired sound does well to set the track apart, but the song still lacks a memorable chorus or lyrics to really make it stand out amongst the better numbers on the album. Him is a slow-paced song pondering some what-ifs about God, ala Joan Osborne’s “One Of Us” (you know, the “What if God was one of us?” song). The song’s meaning is unique, but obviously not unique enough, and nothing about it makes the track really worth listening to.
The album ends on a strong note, however, with He Wasn’t There. The 50’s/vaudeville-style sound is exquisite, and Allen does her best Judy Garland vocal impression, which works well. Lyrically, the song is about Allen repairing her relationship with her estranged father (“And just in case you ever thought I would/I wouldn’t change you for the world/Because I know you’ll always love me very much/I’ll always be your little girl”). I commend Allen for writing about such personal subjects (both on this song and on Back To The Start), especially considering her father’s (Keith Allen) fame. However, once again, the song is probably something that many other people could relate to, and in that way, it seems far more important that Allen release this song, rather than trying to protect her father’s public image.
22 is such a treat to listen to; the combination of upbeat, catchy music and thoughtful lyrics are perfect, and Lily Allen has proven herself as a successful pop artist and songwriter.
1. Everyone’s At It
2. The Fear
3. It’s Not Fair
5. I Could Say
6. Go Back To the Start
7. Never Gonna Happen
8. F–k You
9. Who’d’ve Known
12. He Wasn’t There