Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lily Allen -- It's Not Me, It's You

Lily Allen -- It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol)

The good news is that Lily Allen remains a sharp, incisive lyricist. The not as good news is that producer Greg Kurstin (of The Bird and the Bee), who worked on some of the tracks on Allen’s debut, is not as creative as Mark Ronson. The result is a solid sophomore effort that could use a few more hooks.

The album kicks off with its strongest track, “Everyone’s At It”. The music is crisp keyboard/synth dominated pop with a slightly dramatic heft. This is excellent support for Allen’s blunt and smart observations about drug use. Allen minces no words in noting that reliance on prescription drugs can be as bad as the stuff the law does not allow (this should be an anthem for Bill Maher): “From grown politicians to young adolescents/prescribing themselves antidepressants.”

Allen then turns her attention to fame and tabloid culture and beyond on “The Fear”. Over a mid-tempo electro pop background, Allen not only skewers starlets who take their clothes off for fame, but goes further: “it doesn’t matter because I’m packing plastic/and that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic/and I am a weapon of massive consumption/And it’s not my fault it’s how I’m programmed to function.” The lacerating verses are matched with a flowing chorus that makes for a darned good song.

Things get personal on “Not Fair”, which has loping faux country music in the background. On this track, Allen calls out a lousy lover. Although he’s nice to her, he can’t make her come, and that’s a deal breaker: “Oh I lie here in the wet patch/in the middle of the bed/I’m feeling pretty damn hard done by/I spent ages giving head.” Allen’s frank and clever lyrics are consistent throughout the album.

Unfortunately, the music is not always up to the task. After these first three winners, the songs blur together a bit. The middle of the disc perks up with the clubby house inflected pop of “Back to the Start” and the Russian folk (think Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days”) feel on “Never Gonna Happen”, where Lily tells a fella that he’s a temporary fling, even if she still uses him for booty calls.

I think that Kurstin’s a bit limited, not just in terms of the music he composes, but the instrumental tracks are thin at times. Granted, putting tunes to Allen’s words may be challenging, because she tends to write in specific cadences that don’t always conform to easy melodies or rhythms. But it can be done. Allen would be served better by searching out for a more inspired collaborator. Nevertheless, this sophomore effort shows that, whatever her limitations, she can reach further with her lyrics and make smart pop.

1 comment:

Aaron Emke said...

Re: "...putting tunes to Allen’s words may be challenging..." Actually, according to an article about Ms. Allen that I read somewhere, the process was the other way around (at least for her first album). Lily was presented with tracks that had already been produced, and she selected the ones she liked and wrote the lyrics to fit them.