To hear her talk about it to the press, the spunky British singer Lily Allen is thrilled to be releasing a new album after taking a five-year career hiatus in which she gave birth to two daughters.
“I wasn’t good at staying home all day, it didn’t suit me,” she told the UK edition of Glamour. “I missed the positive feedback about my music from my fans. I missed the rush of performing. I missed the free clothes and handbags and the good tables in posh restaurants. I did!”
But the material on Allen’s comeback record, Sheezus, sends a different message. She sounds grumpier than ever about making music—which raises the question, why’s she bothering to make it?
Her third full-length certainly offers more of the unusual recipe that first made Allen stand out back in the mid-2000s: sharp, tangy, BS-free lyrics coated in deceptively sweet soprano. “I went to prep school, why would I deny it? / Silver spoon at the ready, so don’t even try it,” she coos in “Silver Spoon,” a wry message to detractors read too much into her privileged west London upbringing. On “URL Badman,” Allen acerbically imagines the fantasies of a basement-dwelling, misogynistic male music journalist: “A$AP, Kanye, xx remix / Mike Jones, Paul Wall—I need a Kleenex.”
But if Allen’s trademark bluntness here is delightfully sassy at best, at worst it comes off as unnecessarily disdainful—even cantankerous—toward fame, other musicians, and even pop music fans.
Yes, oppressive industry standards and music journalists do deserve the shellacking Allen gives them on numbers like “Hard Out Here” and “URL Badman” (which, full disclosure, a group of critics that included Nolan Feeney and I may or may not have helped inspire last year). But on the title track, Allen picks on the female musicians she ostensibly set out to defend in the two tracks I just mentioned: She sneers at Lady Gaga and Katy Perry while telling Beyoncé to, essentially, bow down. Jabs like these aren’t ultimately so different, in substance, from the kind of arbitrary competition-dissing found in many rap lyrics. But because most of the artists Allen mentions strain to send positive messages of self- and female empowerment rather than start intra-music beefs, these swipes—tongue-in-cheek as they may be—feel startlingly unprovoked.
“Insincerely Yours,” meanwhile, introduces a note of real antipathy toward fame and celebrity, declaring that she “doesn’t give a fuck” about celebrities like Cara Delevingne or Jourdan Dunn or the perfect lives or “ugly kids” they broadcast on Instagram. “I’m not your friend and I can’t pretend … Let’s be clear / I’m here to make money, money, money,” she sings. “We’re all here ’cause the price is right.” The wistful chorus of “Air Balloon” features Allen fantasizing about what could be interpreted as a place to hide away from fame: a hot-air balloon perch high up in the sky, where “we can’t hear what they say.” (The “let’s just escape all this and get some privacy” vibe returns at the end of the album, too, with a pretty cover of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.”)