Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting High for "Sheezus" (Lily Allen, On A Roll)

So, Lily Allen. I was living in London when Lily Allen was first bicycling into the picture, and overall I found her mildly annoying. I did enjoy her debut single, "Smile," with its muffled reggae piano and cheery nastiness, but not her other single, "LDN," because it was dull and her singing was terrible. I liked her chavvy accent, which seemed to be more of an issue for the Brits; we Americans find any British accent charming (see: Bastille's "Pompeii"). Then I remember liking her singles from It's Not Me, It's You, but probably being more impressed that she merited a profile in The New Yorker. I didn't like the childish Katy Perry feud or the childish Azealia Banks feud or the odd blip where she changed her professional name to Lily Rose Cooper, but overall I tended to lean pro-Lily without a ton of enthusiasm either way. And I'm leery of post-baby albums from female artists I've enjoyed because babies, ew, and the only one who's done a song about her baby that isn't dreck is Kelis.

Have you thought about your butt?
Then came "Hard Out Here," which I loved. And the video, which I LOVED. And the controversy, which I both loathed and devoured. And then came "Air Balloon," which...I also loved. And then her song on the Girls soundtrack, "L8 CMMR," which...wait for it...I also loved. And when I learned this weekend that the album is to be called Sheezus - well, I think I audibly cheered. Yes, certainly it helps that I'm not coming in with any expectations on Lily Allen's next project that she needs to hold up to, but that I'm fully on board with literally everything she's done so far with this project is remarkably unusual, and it's got me excited about 2014 when for the last two years it's taken until about June to rouse my spirits about the stuff coming down the pipeline.

First off, I like the music. All three singles are collaborations with Greg Kurstin (whose work can vacillate Dr. Luke-like between sublime and cynical pandering, depending on his mood and partner) and they work well together, with tight, light productions that seem inevitable but not derivative. Allen doesn't break a sweat in her vocals, regardless of text, which works quite well for Selena Gomez (and which, of course, Allen herself has used to vicious effect on songs like "Smile" and "No Fair"), and as with Gomez I sometimes like a "can't be bothered" coolness in my pop singers. AutoTune effects that vexed me at first on "Hard Out Here" appear to be a stylistic device they're playing with more generally; the retro video game theme of the "L8 CMMR" lyric video seems to extend into the music itself. While it's not the newest of ideas, an entire album of that sound with Lily's wit and coolly relaxed post-baby attitude could make for a nice, clean, interesting pop statement from an unlikely source.

Most of all, I love the statement of the album title. Comparing yourself to Kanye West comparing himself to Jesus is baller ("It's a confident title choice," she said, accurately); doing it using the female gender pronoun is even better. It's about time feminism went postmodern, and I imagine I'll really get to dust off all that literary/film/critical theory I got those degrees for talking about this project, which already excites me. And if Allen's new album is to be a flagship for the salable, smooth-edged mainstream feminism we last saw in the late 90s (and Jezebel's already fretting over), at least Sheezus is a damn good title to bring it in with.

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