Lily Allen’s return to pop music, after nearly calling it quits, was one of the most exciting pieces of news to me in 2013. She had hinted about being apprehensive about a return, but there was no need to worry at all. Rather than repeat what she did on her first two albums, Lily moves forward here. There’s everything from lampooning the state of pop music to pondering motherhood in terms of being a musician. It’s all here, the snark, the humor, the entirely British playful wordiness that makes Lily distinct from the others. Sheezus was a gem among pop albums this year.
Check out my original review from earlier this year:
“Been here before, so I’m prepared. Not gonna lie though, I’m kinda scared.” So starts the first line of the first song on Lily Allen’s triumphant return to pop music, the cheekily titled Sheezus. Yes, she even thanks both Kanye West (whose last release was titled Yeezus) and Jesus in the liner notes for the title, which in her words is “obviously a bit of LOL”. Every bit of charm and snark that made Lily Allen one of my favorite pop performers is here in spades.
The title track is a slowed down spare 808 hip-hop styled track addressing the current state of pop divas and how the industry pits them against each other. If by the first chorus you don’t understand Lily’s extreme style of sarcasm, this album will be a bumpy ride for you. In fact I was surprised by the amount of so-called fans or followers on Facebook that were addressing Lily’s snark and sometimes foul language, citing how she has “turned so negative” with all the cursing. Have you not heard her first hit “Smile”, or the fairly blatant “Fuck You”, or… well have they heard anything by her at all really? Lily makes sarcasm into an art form. Her first video from this album, which is actually the last (sort of) track, “Hard Out Here” has all of these things. The video is a stark parody of the state of pop music, with blatant fake product placement, twerking backup dancers, gold rims, licking things (ehem Miley), and lyrics like “I don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain.” and “forget your balls and grow a pair of tits”. Definitely one of the funniest videos I’ve seen in the past couple years.
Back to the front of the album. “L8 CMMR” is an ode to her new husband. And why not? He’s the reason she almost didn’t go back to making music, so he must be doing something right. I can’t remember the last time that braggadocio veered into “No way, he’s taken ladies! I’ve got me his babies!”. And with a bouncy beat (and video) straight out of a Nintendo world, this one is quite infectious. This is followed by “Air Balloon”, a (pardon the eye-rolling puns) light and airy, sunshiney song about escape and being up “so high it can’t rain”. If you didn’t get the hidden subtext… just watch the video. Where else but on Lily’s balloon ride would she turn down Kurt Cobain’s advances because “Elvis already took first base”. Such a laugh and so much fun to sing along. This is followed by yet another single (she has already released several of the tracks as videos in advance), “Our Time”. In a sense it’s the laid back Lily version of the idea of “Let’s Have A Kiki”, but where she might “dance like your auntie”. It’s a clever feel-good song for an after hours get-together with your friends.
“Insincerely Yours” takes a darker turn lyrically, expressing Lily’s stark disinterest in many of the very plastic people she has had to share spaces with in her career. Musically it’s more of an R&B groove but the lyrics give it a very moody feel. “Take My Place” is a quieter song from the point of view of the crumbling of a relationship before its ugly end. “As Long As I Got You” livens things back up with a cross between maybe country and Grease clap along that ends up with a beat like The Cure’s “Close To Me”. That’s a weird mix that totally works. The song is an ode to the happily married life Lily now lives with her husband and kids and how it makes her feel complete. Not too many odes to this out there. The Hallmark moment goes to the line “Staying home with you is better than sticking things up my nose”. One of the best moments here.
“Close Your Eyes” approaches being a slinky slower summer day R&B sex jam. Lily at her most seductive. After that comes a definite winner “URL Badman”, which is Lily’s sharp jab at her many internet haters and trolls such as the ones I mentioned earlier. Oh… and snooty hipsters who like “complex, Pitchfork, Winnie the Pooh shit”. This one gets closer to Skrillex style electro in the background.. until you realize one of the noises is a bleating sheep. “Silver Spoon” is then where Lily puts herself in the persona of what some haters must have labeled her as without knowing her, which must be a self-centered spoiled rich girl. While this one didn’t stand out musically for me, as it’s a more radio-hip-hop based track, I simply love the lyrics. “Life for Me” gets an almost Caribbean vibe as Lily looks nostalgically at what others are out doing and having fun, and then realizing her life now is more fulfilling. Even if she’s covered in baby food.
Here’s where the track list gets weird. If you have the regular edition, the next and final track is a stellar piano and voice cover of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know”. I missed Keane the first time around. Whatever I had heard by them I must not have been that into it. Comparing the tracks now without that attachment of loving the original, I definitely prefer Lily’s version. There’s a massive power to the delicate pace of the piano and her unique voice that just melts me. And to think it was recorded for a commercial in the UK. It’s so much more powerful than that. On the deluxe edition this track is also the closing track, *after* the other bonus tracks.
Here’s the breakdown of the bonus tracks. “Wind Your Neck In” is the most clever. This one fits the flow of the rest of the album, and is Lily’s expression of “mind your own business”. “Who Do You Love” is a bit perplexing as it sounds like it could either be about making her man choose between her and someone else, or possibly about a sibling rivalry. The music has a very hazy day feel to it. “Miserable Without Your Love” veers between self-affirmation and dependency. Like many of her lyrics it just comes out as is, very stream of conscience. “Holding Onto Nothing” has a more deliberate sort of soulful slower piano-rock beat, and is a pondering about being afraid to give yourself fully to someone for fear of being hurt. These are all good tracks, but mostly more like good b-side material in that they just feel a bit different than the flow of the rest of the album. But definitely good enough to merit the couple bucks extra.
Overall this a very strong return for Lily. The way she has released many of these songs one at a time up to its release already made this feel like a hits album by the time it came out. These songs have everything that makes me love her: wit, snark, clever lyrics and commentary, quirky arrangements and that gorgeous one of a kind voice. Sheezus wins on all counts and is definitely thus far one of my favorite recordings of 2014. Welcome back Mrs. Cooper!
Oh and if you were wondering, the Latin on the album cover translates as:
DIVIDE ET IMPERA – “DIVIDE AND RULE”
Additionally on the deluxe edition:
QUIDQUID LATINE DICTUM ALTUM VIDETUR – “THAT WHICH IS SAID IN LATIN SOUNDS PROFOUND”
Get your copy of Sheezus HERE:
Check out some videos from the album:
“Hard Out Here”:
“As Long As I Got You”
“Somewhere Only We Know”: