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.”)
The title of Sheezus, of course, is a smirking play on Kanye West’s hard-hitting 2013 statement album Yeezus. But if Sheezus has any statement of its own to make, it’s that Lily Allen doesn’t like anybody much these days except her husband and kids. The least cynical sentiments on Sheezus, like the ones in the playful, tender “As Long as I Got You” and the don’t-touch-my-man anthem “L8 CMMR,” find Allen singing her the praises of her husband and their life together at home. “Life for Me” follows Allen as she agonizes over the monotony and messiness of motherhood (“I’m head to toe in baby food,” she laments) and momentarily envies the glamorous lives of her friends without kids, but ultimately realizes, “I’m as content as can be / This is the life for me.” And as Greg Kot rightly notes at the Chicago Tribune, the album’s one ode to good times and living it up—the laid-back “Our Time”—feels something like a “farewell to a bygone ritual.”
It’s hard to shake the impression, then, that Sheezus is a comeback album by someone who’s not all that excited about being back—and the fact that Allen herself recently agreed with a fan that some of its music was “docile pop rubbish” doesn’t help.