Monday, July 21, 2014

Sheezus | Lily Allen


★★★☆

A few months ago, loud-mouthed British pop princess Lily Allen dropped her third studio album Sheezus, a title that is an obvious nod towards Kanye West's Yeezus and a statement on female empowerment. More recently, plans were revealed for Allen to open for select shows on the remaining North American leg of Miley Cyrus' Bangerz Tour. Seeing that she is obviously beginning to seek a bigger authority in the American music industry after already being a dominating force across the pond, I figured now was the time to finally see what Allen has to offer.

TRACK-BY-TRACK

Sheezus opens with the song that shares its namesake, a trippy track about musical divas like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Lorde. Allen's voice in the song seems fragile, as if this was a demo track that was released too early. Next, broken Nintendo Game Boy noises take center stage in "L8 CMMR" (apparently pronounced as "late comer") as Allen describes her baby daddy as "a bad motherfucker" and brags to other ladies that "He can bring it, bring it all day long / All other men, them been wrong / Nobody will get to see / 'Cause he's gonna spend his life with me." So moral of the story? Lily Allen's bad-ass husband is hers and only hers. Don't you forget that.

Allen collaborated primarily with songwriting and producing giant Greg Kurstin for this album, but worked with pop heavyweight Shellback for "Air Balloon." The song is disappointingly boring for a Shellback production, who had his hands in tracks like Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" and "Problem" by the powerful duo of Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea. The next song on the album, "Our Time," is rather bland as well, seeming to be a downplayed cover version of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop."

The album's primary uptempo electropop sound takes the back-burner for the album's four middle tracks. On "Insincerely Yours," Allen dabbles in West Coast hip-hop influences while she trash-talks Rita Ora and Jourdan Dunn, and  Cara Delevingne before even finishing the first stanza. She may also be referencing her Twitter fight with rapper Azealia Banks with the line "I don't give a fuck about your Instagram / About your lovely house or your ugly kids." (Banks called Allen's kids ugly at some point during their '140 characters or less' jabs at each other.)

A downcast ballad titled "Take My Place" finds its way into the track listing here, and it is neither a highlight nor a low point, to be honest. Allen then manages to take us to a pseudo-hoedown with "As Long As I Got You," one of quite a few songs dedicated to being a wife and mother on Sheezus. The midmost tracks may be a departure from the pop sound of the other songs on this album, but sonically, "As Long As I Got You" is a completely random outlier; there's no other way around it. The track "Close Your Eyes" revisits that funky hip-hop sound that was introduced in "Insincerely Yours" before the album slides back into electronic-pop hybrid mode.

"URL Badman" has been another popular single from the album that covers the inner doings of an Internet troll. In the song, Allen name-drops a lot of random, uncorrelated shit like Winnie the Pooh, A$AP Rocky, and Vice, and half-raps her verses about being a "broadband champion" in a manner that manages to sound quite similar to M.I.A. due to their English accents. I love the song, but I can't help but wonder if its semi-autobiographical given all of her infamous statements within public earshot, many of which have been made in the lyrics of this album.

A darker synthpop sound bleeds through on the self-defensive "Silver Spoon." The song is statement about singers that are rumored to be entering the business either by sleeping with the right people or buying their own record deal. Allen sarcastically sings lyrics through the song with a doubled digitized vocal line to create a cool effect. The following song, "Life for Me," is a light track about... well, Allen's daily life. Lyrically, the song is just as boring as you'd expect a housewife's diary to be: the kids keep me busy, when I get a free moment I like to watch T.V., I don't get any sleep, and I'm not in the mood to have sex.

Arguably the most widespread track from Sheezus is also its finale: "Hard Out Here" is an auto-tuned track that is a stronger feminist anthem than the title track, which I expected to be no holds barred on the subject. Instead, "Hard Out Here" is a killer track that finds Allen exclaiming, "Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits / It's hard, it's hard, it's hard out here for a bitch," while the video is a satirical view of females in the music industry, as she dances with some half naked women and a company CEO forces her into liposuction.

OVERALL

In his review of the album, Digital Spy's Lewis Corner stated that the songs on Sheezus lyrically rely on "snappy commentary and a fearlessly perceptive outlook." Personally, I feel that this commentary is quite self-defensive with songs like "Silver Spoon," and simply shallow in "Life for Me" and "URL Badman." However, shallow isn't necessarily a bad thing in all cases; "URL Badman" is aimed at people that use the Internet to troll and feel superior, a first world problem that most people using the Internet today have to deal with on a daily basis. The song with the strongest resonating meaning is surprisingly "Hard Out Here." It may be hidden behind some cutesy vocals and a comical video, but the meaning is there.

Honestly, when Allen is good, she's great ("L8 CMMR," "URL Badman," "Hard Out Here"), but when she's bad, she just bland ("Sheezus," "Life for Me"). I'll be jamming to the great cuts from this album for months to come, no doubt, but when looking at Sheezus as a whole, it's a run-of-mill, average pop album. I guess just like the Corgis that appear on the cover of this album, Allen's bark is definitely worse than her bite.

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