Album Review: Lily Allen, “Sheezus” (2014)

When she first came out, I was a huge fan of Lily Allen.  I thought her brand of Brit pop/punk music was clever and refreshing, and I devoured her debut album.  In fact, I remember my best friend and I listening to “Alright, Still” the whole time during an 8-hour road trip from Reno to Los Angeles- that’s how much I liked it.  I thought her second album was just as good, though I probably didn’t listen to it as much.  Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and definitely considered myself a big Lily Allen fan.  Then, she just sort of faded away.

Five years after the release of her sophomore album, “It’s Not Me, It’s You”, Allen made a comeback of sorts with her third studio album, Sheezus.  The album’s produced and co-written by Greg Kurstin (a frequent collaborator on Allen’s work) and features some of the same tongue-in-cheek lyrics that we’ve all come to expect from Allen.

I’d be lying if I said that this was my favourite album of 2014.  It was one of those albums that I listened to pretty often when it was first released, but I almost forgot about it by the end of the year.  Though there are some really great moments on Sheezus, a lot of the album is a bit generic and uninspired.  There are moments when we get some classic Lily Allen sarcasm, quirky beats, and memorable hooks…and then there are moments when it really feels as if she’s just phoning it in.

The album’s title and title track are a parody of the Kanye West album “Yeezus”, and the song features an appropriate hip-hop/pop beat.  The song is a comical look at Allen’s experiences in the music business.  The lyrics are clever (“I’ll take the hits, roll with the punches/I’ll get back up, it’s not as if I’ve never done this/But then again, the game is changing/Can’t just come back, jump on the mic, and do the same thing”) and full of pop culture references (“RiRi isn’t scared of Katy Perry’s roaring/Queen B’s gone back to the drawing/Lorde smells blood, yeah, she’s about to slay you…”) and producer DJ Dahi (who’s best known for producing Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s stuff) does a good job of making a slick, catchy beat.

Unfortunately, one of the better songs on the album is followed by two of the lesser ones: L8 CMMR and Air Balloon.  Both tracks feature a pop beat and not much else; lyrically, both are surprisingly weak, lacking any of Allen’s trademark witty song-writing.  Annoying synthesizers and bubblegum beats take up the tracks, and hell, it’s been a year and I still don’t even know what either of these songs are supposed to be about…I just skip them every time: they’re that bad. I vaguely remember reading an article or interview from Allen around the time the album was released, where she basically said the songs were included as her label thought the album didn’t really have any radio singles without them.  Really trying not to call her a sell-out here, but c’mon….really?  Better to leave your album without any radio hits, than to include shitty, half-assed songs like these.

Actually, the album continues its downward slump for a while.  Our Time is a mid-tempo synthpop track, that doesn’t sound as bad as the songs before it, but is just simply boring both lyrically and musically. As Long As I Got You…just…ugh.  Musically, the song sounds like a parody of the music you’d hear at a hoe-down, lyrically, the song is just cheesy pop crap (“As long as I’ve got you and we can be/Together and forever just you and me, well, that’s swell”).  It’s not even trying to be clever or sarcastic like some of her older stuff…it’s just cheesy shit.  This just angers me, really.  Lily Allen- the same person who made a successful pop song with a good beat and great lyrics like “Smile”- is releasing shit like this now?!   UGH.

Insincerely Yours is quite a bit better, but it’s one of those songs that you really have to pay attention to. The innocuous faux hip-hop beat is more memorable than some of the other songs, but it’s the lyrics that make up the most interesting parts of the song (“What’s going on in the magazines?/It’s the same damn thing in every one/I don’t give a fuck about Delevigne/Or that Rita girl/About Jourdan Dunn”) as Allen gives a disillusioned view on the entertainment industry.  In fact, Insincerely Yours is one of the better songs on the album lyrically.  I’d prefer more of this, and less of L8 CMMR.

Thankfully, there’s a few other good moments on the album.  Take My Place is a ballad about Allen’s miscarriage; heavy stuff, but she balances it with beautifully heartfelt lyrics (“If I could then I would scream/I’d wipe the tears off of my face/Wake me up if it’s a dream/This is more than I can take/I’d give everything I own/If someone else could take my place”) and a pretty melody.  The track is definitely one of the most honest moments on the album, and the earnest lyrics are refreshing.   Life For Me sounds like some of the stuff on Allen’s debut, musically- it’s got more of the ska/reggae sound that she used to be known for.  Lyrically, the song describes the life of a bored housewife and the balance between enjoying life and envying everyone else’s (“Why does it feel like I’m missing something?/”Been there and done that” was good for nothing/Everything’s perfect, yeah I’m as content as can be/This is the life for me”), which is actually a pretty common feeling for most of us in our late 20’s, I’d think.  Allen’s always been good on tapping into how everyone really feels when she gets introspective with her lyrics, and this track is no exception.  Meanwhile, Silver Spoon tackles the critics that think Allen only got her career due to her famous father.  The lyrics are well-written and humorous (“So I got a trust fund, so what am I doing?/Buying property, can’t be bothered with the viewings/I’m getting hungry, could you fetch my butler?/Step back I couldn’t be any humbler”) and the beat is another catchy one.

Allen saves the really funny lyrics for URL Badman, a silly song about internet trolls and critics.  The lyrics are actually laugh-out-loud funny (“I’m a London white boy rapping ATL/Keyboard Warrior that can’t spell/I don’t like you, I think you’re worthless/I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress”) and definitely call to mind some of Allen’s best songs in the past.  The irony continues with Hard Out Here, which was the album’s lead single.  This time, Allen puts sexism in the music industry on blast in the most Lily Allen way possible- with a string of clichés and satirical lyrics (“I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking/You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen/I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains/Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain”).  The track really divided fans initially, until everyone realised that the song was supposed to be a parody.  As Allen sings herself in the second verse, “And if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood.”

Strangely enough, the album closes with a cover of the Keane song, Somewhere Only We Know.  It’s strange because I’m not sure why Allen felt the need to cover the song, let alone include it on her album.  I know she’s done covers before- in fact, I have a brilliant version of her cover of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer”- but this rendition is lacking. Sure, it’s pretty enough, and it’s really the only song on the album where Allen does some straight singing with no flashy production to distract, but her version isn’t better than Keane’s original and it sort of falls flat.

I don’t know, I have so many mixed feelings about Sheezus.  I really wanted to like the album; I was excited after not hearing from Lily Allen after five years and I thought I’d really love this one.  Like I mentioned before, there are some really great moments- songs where you can tell she put a lot of thought into the lyrics, cleverly written lines that make me laugh, and some really good beats…but then there are those tracks where Allen so obviously cared more about making a hit than producing quality music.  The thing I don’t understand is why she felt the need to release those songs when she never had a problem producing a good pop hit before. At any rate, the inclusion of the bad songs really bring the overall quality of the album down, making into one I can’t really recommend; you’re better off just downloading the good songs.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Track Listing: 
1. Sheezus
2. L8 CMMR
3. Air Balloon
4. Our Time
5. Insincerely Yours
6. Take My Place
7. As Long as I Got You
8. Close Your Eyes
9. URL Badman
10. Silver Spoon
11. Life for Me
12. Hard Out Here
13. Somewhere Only We Know

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