Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lily Allen Strikes Hard With "It's Not Me, It's You"

There’s nothing more appealing than a sassy British rock star who serves up attitude with a side of infectious pop. When Lily Allen released her debut album “Alright, Still” with its ruthless hit “Smile,” in 2006, a star was born. Her triumphant return to the music scene (after leading a very public and Perez Hilton dominated private life) comes in the form of “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” a dynamic new album full of more of the highly personal and opinionated songs that we fell in love with three years ago.

Developing a much more mature sound than that of her previous record, Allen’s album draws heavily on indie influences to incorporate a heavy dose of electronica. With a new musical style and lyrics that deliver a middle finger with a grin, Allen is proving she’s more than just tabloid fodder. In fact, she’s a rare gem among today’s insipid assortment of pop icons.

One of the things I respect most about Allen’s newest record is the fact that she did not go the safe route. Having already developed a name for herself, she could have easily hired guaranteed hit-making producers to write smash Katy Perry “Hot ‘N Cold”-esque hits for her. Instead, she decided to take her time and personally write an album that, even after the first listen, hits hard. It sounds like someone setting music to their diary.

On top of that, she decided to go for a brand new sound. Rather than testing it out on a few tracks, Allen blankets the entire record with electronica ala The Postal Service or The Bird And The Bee. This was a highly risky move since it might have alienated many fans. Clearly, however, Allen does not go to the recording studio to appeal to a specific fan base, but rather to grow as an artist and find the most genuine music to match the experiences her soothingly melodic voice croons about.

When it comes to traditional pop record themes, the album is divided between songs about being in love and being heartbroken. Cumulatively, they deliver an interesting narrative of what it is like to be emotionally invested in someone only to have your heart ripped out, giving you a perspective on how wrong you were in said relationship all along – a fact you never willingly realized until it was over.

Tracks such as the square dance/electronic violin hybrid “Not Fair,” the accordion amplified and gypsy folklore fused “Never Gonna Happen,” or The Blow inspired “I Could Say” take bitter and angry slashes at a failed lover. “Not Fair” serves as the counterpart to “Not Big” from Allen’s first album, both songs accusing her lover of not being sexually satisfying. “I Could Say,” on the other hand, acts as an anthem to the newfound freedom after a relationship is over: “And now you’ve gone it feels as if the world is my stage, and now you’ve gone it’s like I’ve been let out of my cage,” she proclaims, finding solace in her new single status.

Allen’s softer side comes across in songs such as “Who’d Of Known,” where we get a first-hand account of what it is like for an emotionally crippled girl to realize she is actually being cared for and falling in love. Although the lyrics make clear how awful her past relationships have been, the track puts a smile on the listener’s face by showing that she in fact does have the ability be happy.

Definitely the most romantically fueled song on the album, “Chinese” is both a raw and adorable look at Allen missing her lover while she is off on tour in faraway places. She sings about just wanting to come home to her boyfriend and do everyday things with him: “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 Chinese and watch TV. Tomorrow we’ll take the dog for a walk and in the afternoon then maybe we’ll talk,” she daydreams.

The track’s pure endearing innocence makes the listener almost feel guilty for buying tickets to Allen’s concert because it’s causing her to be separated from her source of pleasure. Anyone who has experienced a long-distance relationship or been parted from someone they love will surely eat this song up since its honesty and sheer cuteness is bound to strike a chord.

The real standout tracks on the album, however, are not the ones motivated by love but by issues such as politics and religion. The song “Him,” for instance, serves as the 2009 version of the 90’s Joan Osbourne hit “What If God Was One Of Us.” In it, Allen equates the idea of God to a regular man, asking questions such as if he’s ever had financial problems, been suicidal, experimented with drugs or dealt with racism. “Ever since he can remember people have died in his good name. Long before that September, long before hijacking planes, he’s lost the will, he can’t decide, he doesn’t know who’s right or wrong. But there’s one thing that he’s sure of, this has been going on too long,” Allen muses. Interestingly, the word “him” is never used in the lyrics. Although she is not praising a higher power, Allen is also not rejecting the idea of its existence, which leads me to believe that “Him” is in fact a thinly veiled disguise for “hymn,” a word meaning a piece of music written in tribute to God.

The album’s most jaw-droppingly ferocious song comes in the form of “Fuck You,” an ode to former President George W. Bush. In it, the outspoken British songstress lets loose a series of attacks on Bush’s intelligence and humanity. “Do you get a little kick out of being small minded? You want to be like your father, his approval you’re after. Well that’s not how you’ll find it. Do you really enjoy living a life that’s so hateful? ‘Cuz there’s a hole where your soul should be,” Allen accuses.

Whether or not you agree with Allen’s views, it takes a lot of courage to release a song of such political magnitude on a mainstream album and that in itself deserves recognition. As someone who personally agrees with her sentiments about our former president, I wish the song had appeared on her first album instead when he was still in the White House. Now, it’s almost as though the song has lost some of its value and umph since Bush is no longer the Commander-in-Chief. Regardless, it is safe to say that the red states will not be Allen’s best selling market for this record.

Other socio-political tracks such as “The Fear” and “22,” songs about the societal conceptions of womanhood and celebrity, “Everyone’s At It,” which comments on the overwhelming addiction to prescription drugs, and “Kabul Shit,” with its self-explanatory anti-war title, tightly knit the record into what could easily be a musical version of an op-ed section of a newspaper. Allen has made it clear that she is an intelligent citizen of today’s world who is not afraid of using her public status as a podium to make her voice heard on what she deems to be important issues.

With “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” Lily Allen has outdone herself and created a record that will not only have you singing along to its catchy hooks, but will provide you with strong messages that will make this an unforgettable album for anyone who gives it the chance it properly deserves. Kudos to her for standing up for her beliefs and serving as an inspiration on so many different levels. Watch out America, the British musical invasion is making a comeback with a fearlessly saucy female leader ready to kick ass and conquer.

Album release date: February 10th, 2009 (Capitol)

Must have track: "The Fear"

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Like it? Buy it here


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