Ever since the release of her 2006 debut Alright, Still we’ve been able to count on Lily Allen for brutal honesty and biting sarcasm. On said debut, there was a song called “Alfie” during which she accused her brother of being a lazy stoner. And on “Knock ‘Em Out” she dissed guys who would dare to approach her in pubs. Plenty of other shots were taken as well. Some even at herself. Thematically, her following album, 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, was more of the same. She wrestled with her own anxieties on “The Fear.” During “Everyone’s At It,” she addressed the hypocrisy of a society where people criticize others for being on drugs — Prozac, crack, whatever — when they’re taking them themselves. She also revealed a kinder, gentler side on a song for her mother (“Chinese”) and a song for her father (“He Wasn’t There”). Her new album, Sheezus, finds her slicing and dicing society with a bigger blade. And this time around everyone gets splattered with blood, even her fellow pop stars. Meanwhile, she rips her own chest wide open, unveiling her still-beating heart. She even jokes that she has a baggy pussy; see the controversial — and hilarious — video for the album’s infectious lead track, “Hard Out Here,” an anthem that uses auto-tune *ironically.*
The album opens with the title track, “Sheezus,” the title of which was inspired by Kanye West’s Yeezus. That alone would seem to imply an inflated ego. And you do have to wonder how much of the song is sarcasm and how much is Lily truly striving to be queen b. On one hand, she seems to respectfully name-drop Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Lorde and Lady Gaga. On the other, she boldly indicates that “second best will never cut it for the divas” and demands “give me that crown, bitch, I wanna be Sheezus.”
Lily is not exactly full of herself, however. On the contrary, she sings major praises of her husband, Sam Cooper, on a few of Sheezus’ tracks, the first of which is “L8 CMMR,” a catchy enough tune that, sadly, does not appear to use auto-tune ironically. Then again, it’s clearly used for stylistic reasons, being that it’s only used on roughly a third of the song, proving that she doesn’t need it to “win the race,” as the song goes. But it’s not the sound of the vocals so much as the witty lyrics they deliver that make the song such a winner. Take the refrain, for example: “You can’t have him / No way he’s taken, ladies, I’ve got me his babies / Look at my ring / He’s going nowhere ’til this fat lady sings.” (You know what kind of singing she’s talking about, right? *wink*) If you find that sort of thing off-putting, then you probably wouldn’t like the perfectly sexed-up R&B number “Close Your Eyes,” which finds her singing things like, “When I’m standing out / In my underwear / I know that I’ve let myself go / But I still feel sexy / When you undress me.” It’s one of the album’s most honest moments, the delightful number seemingly devoid of any sarcasm. It’s probably the sort of thing trolls will crack mean-spirited jokes about, but the fact that she’s laid herself vulnerable and put the song on the album anyway reveals just how honest she is and that’s to be admired in a world where most pop stars keep the public at arm’s length, singing a bunch of fiction that they didn’t even write.
Speaking of trolls, she has a laugh about them on “URL Badman,” during which she sings in first person from the point of view of one of said detractors: “I’m a London white boy rapping ATL / Keyboard Warrior that can’t spell / I don’t like you, I think you’re worthless / I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress.” It’s a better takedown than any blog a member of the I-Hate-Lily-Allen-Fanclub could ever write. The best line? “And when I’m a big boy I’m gonna write for Vice.” (That will teach them to accuse her of racism.)
While there’s usually an air of confidence behind Lily’s sarcasm, she does not claim to have everything all figured out. Quite the contrary, actually. On “Life For Me” she half-sarcastically sings “this is the life for me” in reference to life with her family after lamenting about everyone being out partying but her. That’s right, even her husband and kids aren’t off-limits, Lily conveying her relatable frustrations: “Please don’t think that I’m being rude / Honey I’m just not in the mood / I’m head to toe in baby food / So please will you give it a rest.” Ultimately, the song ends with Lily not ironically singing, “Everything’s perfect, yeah I’m as content as can be / This is the life for me.”
Perhaps tracks like the cheesy “Air Balloon” and the party anthem “Our Time” are “rubbish,” as Lily recently tweeted. Yet they’re not without plenty of irresistible charm, warmly worming their way inside of your head in a fun, uppity way. Are they lacking substance? Sure. Nobody is accusing these songs of being anything but fluff. But the album as a whole packs far more substance — and humor — than you’re likely to hear on any pop album this year. So, yes, grab that crown and give it to Lily stat. She is the Sheezus. She’s earned it.