Bouncy tunes belie cheekiness.
Lily Allen (Capitol)
* * *
Each and every year, a new crop of potential pop divas sprouts out of the woodwork like weeds.
True, you have your occasional rose among the blooming idiots and crab grass, but rarely do you have the likes of Lily Allen. She might look and sound like another dainty flower, but don't be fooled. She's a regular Venus flytrap.
With her bohemian fashion sense, her dysfunctional girl-next-door innocence and a hooligan's wickedness, the 21-year-old Allen is a bona fide pop star with a salty sailor's mouth. Allen took Great Britain by storm this past summer with her first single, "Smile," which topped the U.K. singles charts, and her debut album, "Alright Still," which landed at No. 2 on the U.K. album charts.
Allen is a drama queen who likes being miserable and loves destroying the spirits of those who have done her wrong. This high school dropout, ex-Ecstasy dealer and MySpace darling from Hammersmith, England, is the kind of girl who, if you did her wrong, would kick you in the teeth while singing a happy tune. Her often-misleading, arsenic-laced bubblegum pop ditties show more brass and brain than most of her contemporaries, making the listener bounce along often without initially realizing that the songs are stinging.
What she lacks in pipes, Allen makes up for in personality. Personality goes a long way and that's the saving grace of this record, which could be renamed, "Sass and the Single Girl."
The leadoff single, "Smile," is guaranteed to cause at least a smirk with its nonchalant sexual frankness and wickedness. In the first two lines, Allen establishes her stage persona, which gives the listener an impression that is not much different that the real thing. With her chirpy, conversational delivery bouncing along a cheery mix of gurgling synthesizers and dub reggae grooves, Allen reveals a serpent's tongue, salt-on-the-wound lyrics and a vindictive streak that seems to contradict the pop-friendly melody and perky voice.
More a pro-feminist comedy sketch than a pop song, "Knock 'em Out" is geared to any female club-hopper who hates being hit on by Mr. Wrong. Jazzy piano and fiery horns pepper Allen's breakneck, verbal bashing, but it's her verbal tongue-lashing that's the show. When the guy doesn't get the hint, Allen goes on a politically incorrect tirade, in which she says everything from her house is on fire to she's a carrier of several sexually transmitted diseases to scare her suitor off. Whether you side with Allen, there is no denying that the song is the perfect slumber party anthem for girls.
Allen is our tour guide through the sights and eyesores that make up her beloved London on "LDN."
In what's the Britpop equivalent to Martin Scorsese's vision of New York's "Mean Streets," Allen fondly showcases the seedy underbelly and urban decay that give London its personality and charm. Despite London being infested with pimps, crack fiends, petty criminals and street crazies, she affectionately croons, "Oh why oh why/Would I wanna be anywhere else?" While Allen delivers her cheery chorus alongside a breezy calypso brass, the listener never gets the impression that she's actually slamming her native country. On the contrary, she adores it.
On "Everything's Just Wonderful," Allen worries about how everything in her world seems to be spinning out of control and that her chances of making it on her own seem doubtful. Accompanied by kitschy, '60s pop melody and more misgivings than a "Sex and the City" DVD boxed-set, Allen cries out to the Almighty above and chastises the bureaucrats here on Earth. With the burden of being a modern girl in the 21st century, Allen is wrestling with bad credit and a negative body image. In the song's best verse, Allen grumbles, "In the magazines they talk about weight loss/If I buy those jeans I can look like Kate Moss/Oh, no it's not the life I chose/But I guess that's the way things go." If she's not careful, Allen might become this generation's Mary Tyler Moore. She might not make it after all, but at least she's going to have fun trying.
Allen shows her tender, tortured side without being testy or tongue-in-cheek on "Littlest Things." Through unguarded intimacy and personal details, Allen wonderfully conveys the feelings of amour that sometimes linger long after a relationship is over. Allen beautifully sums up the relationship in the lines, "We'd spend the whole weekend living in your own dirt/I was just so happy in your boxers and your T-shirt." As "Smile" takes us off-guard for its self-assuredness, "Littlest Things" does the same with its sensitivity.
With no ex-lovers, rivals and would-be suitors left to lash out at, Allen shifts her attention to unsuspecting family members.
In the impromptu and unconventional intervention set to music called "Alfie," Allen confronts her little brother, who is wasting away in a marijuana haze. With flighty vocals and a spirited arrangement that sounds like it was lifted from a mischievous family movie from the '60s, Allen inquires how her sibling expects to get a job or, better yet, find a girl, if he doesn't get out of his room first.
Allen unmercifully rips into her dear ol' grandmother on "Nan, You're a Window Shopper." On this wicked, reggae-tinged spoof of 50 Cent's "Window Shopper," Allen airs details of her grandma that probably should have stayed within the family. Allen portrays her Nan as a coupon-clipping, cat hair-covered, leaky colostomy bag-wearing mess, smelling of medicine and unable to walk upright. And those are the nice things she has to say about her. Whether the listener is horrified or finds the humor in the song, one still has to appreciate her unabashed behavior and unwillingness to play it safe.
CUTLINE: Lily Allen performs on stage during MTV's "Total Request Live" show at the MTV Times Square Studios last month.
PHOTOG: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Mar 11, 2007|
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