Pictures of Lily

3 minute read
Josh Tyrangiel

In 2006, Lily Allen became the first breakout star on MySpace, and even nonadolescents could figure out the appeal. Her debut album, Alright, Still, had an irresistible single called “Smile,” a follow-up about a dope-smoking little brother, and just enough ska and reggae samples to hint at the existence of a precocious streak. There was a minor controversy over Allen’s fondness for obscenities and Mockney (the British term for the upper-class affectation of a lower-class Cockney accent, à la Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins), but even that advanced her charm as a real girl sticking up for herself, even if no one was actually trying to keep her down.

Allen’s follow-up, It’s Not Me, It’s You, isn’t nearly as cute, but grownup things rarely are. Born in London and raised there by an actor father and a film-producer mother (as a girl, Allen appeared as a lady-in-waiting in Elizabeth and was mentored by, among others, Joe Strummer), Allen, 23, appears to have embraced a slightly more serious view of what pop can be. Not that you can tell from the hooks. Produced by Greg Kurstin of the retro-pop duo the Bird and the Bee, the music robs every genre it can in the pursuit of anything that might stick in your ears. There’s a klezmer-inspired accordion that morphs into a glossy Abba-worthy chorus on “Never Gonna Happen” and an intro that sounds like an electronic version of “Rawhide” on “Not Fair,” all of which succeeds in creating enough of a melodic diversion to make you forget that the songs are split-timed and almost mechanically verse-chorus-verse.

What’s different–and better–is Allen. Her range is a tiny thing, but she dispenses with the guv’nors and blimeys and sings with a pout, as if she were caught in the middle of a mildly disappointing day–though no worse than what she expected when she got up. Her voice rarely rises above the conversational and never sounds labored; nothing she sings feels like a statement, which is why you’re surprised when the lyrics add up to something smart. “The Fear,” already a hit in Britain, is a hummable single about vapid consumerism (“I want to be rich and I want lots of money/ I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny”) that honors both “Lost in the Supermarket” and “Material Girl.” “Not Fair” laments that her otherwise excellent boyfriend is lousy in bed (“I look into your eyes, I want to get to know yer/ And then you make this noise and it’s apparent it’s all over”) but advances from slagging wit to real disappointment in the chorus.

Allen takes on a few subjects that are beyond her grasp–“F___ You,” her rotten egg lobbed at George W. Bush, feels ridiculous and late–but even when she’s being stupid, she sounds like an honest pop star. To quote a line from her ballad “Who’d Have Known,” “Even though it’s moving forward, there’s just the right amount of awkward.”

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