Lily Allen - Alright, Still
Chet Ripley 19/07/2006
“I don't play an instrument, which really makes me focus on the vocal melody, and the lyrics are incredibly important to me. I'll beat myself up for ages over one line because I don't feel that the song flows as a story” - Lily Allen, from the accompanying press release.
I love pop. Don't think this is some indie-guitar fan-boy hatchet job. It's not. 'Smile', which I believe hit the number one spot at some point, passed me by because I don't listen to the radio. They don't play enough pop. Fact. Great pop songs are rationed across daytime radio. Magical moments scattered sparingly, surrounded on all sides by bloated pap. Given the kiss of death that is the Jo Whiley endorsement, 'Smile' gets the album off to a sprightly start introducing what is the prevailing musical signature across the eleven tracks and which proves to be key conspirator in its failure: cod reggae. The majority of tracks feature choppy up-strokes on the back-beat while the kick drum carries out the classic one-drop, and it all sounds terribly dated and not the slightest bit convincing. In addition to this on the opening track a horrible set of chimes, which appear to have been borrowed from the Brand New Heavies, ring out while a Roland pre-set swoosh ping-pongs from speaker to speaker in irritating fashion. It's got an undeniably champion vocal melody but is far from perfect pop.
'Knock 'Em Out' borrows the relentless, harsh snare hit and rumbling bass synth that has typified so many run-of-the-mill pseudo-grime tracks that have emerged since Boy On Da Corner marked the commercial highpoint of that particular movement. It is undoubtedly an attempt to give Lily her very own 'Sharp Darts', but she falls somewhat short of Skinner's smart wit and wordplay. For someone who professes that their emphasis is on the melody and lyrical content the album is littered with cringeworthy couplets and a not so subtle infusion of influences. 'LDN' strings together clumsy, clumsy lines with no real humour or insight: “There was a little old lady who was walking down the road, she was struggling with bags from Tesco. There were people from the city eating lunch in the park, I believe that is called Al Fresco”. Urgh! When she reels off the names of various London boroughs, in what is presumably a doff of the cap to accepted hip-hop convention, it just sounds incredibly naff.
'Everything's Just Wonderful' begins with a lush muzak intro before breaking into a backing that owes considerable debt to 'Sound Of The Underground'. With some slickly deployed handclaps and a nicely metered vocal line over the top it is the first instance where we get a glimpse of Lily's much-reputed lyrical flair. It sports a truly sublime chorus that brings to mind the slinky sophistication associated with Astrud Gilberto, Francoise Hardy or Saint Etienne's finer moments.
Confusingly, someone has elected to only imply the word cunt on 'Friday Night', wherein Lily ingeniously creates a refrain from the refrain of Dawn Penn's You Don't Love Me (No, No, No). The rest of the album is full of expletives, more than enough to ensure the parental advisory sticker, so why duck out on the C-word? The preceding rhyme leaves us in no doubt as to the reducer that is dished out at the end of the couplet and it's curious to say something so clearly without choosing to actually say it. Something tells me Lily might have relished the opportunity to publicly reclaim it from the male fraternity. Odd. Minor point, but odd all the same.
'Shame For You' limps along with Lily sounding like the guest rapper on a UB40 b-side. 'Littlest Things' is the 'Dry Your Eyes' moment and is a suitably schmaltzy ode to lost love. The intention being to demonstrate that beneath this rambunctious, brash exterior is a sensitive, vulnerable heart. Hmmm. Go tell it to the mountain because, frankly, it's wasted on me. By this stage the whole thing has begun to feel just ever so slightly clinical and gutless. 'Take What You Take' is cut from the same cloth as 'My Generation'; a rallying call for the British youth to cast off the yoke that they dutifully wear in respect of their elders (huh?), and forge their own path. All we can hope is that Lily's career may last long enough for her to suffer the same ignominy as experienced by Messrs Daltrey and Townsend in performing this hideous song when she hits sixty. As an aside, will we see a wealth of artists eschewing the rock and roll staple of youth alignment when spending power, as has been indicated recently, shifts further toward the grey sector of society? Could make for some revelatory pop tunes. 'Friend Of Mine' is more sub-Corinne Bailey-Rae bobbins and Alfie closes the show with a tepid diatribe about a weed-smoking sibling.
It's not a total disaster by any means but, if you have a real love for wordplay and don't play an instrument then why go and make a pop record? All too often it's the backing tracks that let her down and it's reasonable to assume that Regal's budget wouldn't stretch to a Kanye or Pharrell but the no-marks that make up this production? Sheesh! Mark Ronson is the only notable and if all the puff and bluster that preceded his damp squib of a debut platter is anything to go by, then Lily may regret not picking her cohorts more carefully. On the evidence here, I would have been far happier to see her throwing off the shackles of song form and applying herself to setting the poetry world alight (although there's very likely good reason why she did not). As for opinionated female pop stars: where are my Lady Sovereign 12”s?