When Lily Allen burst onto the music scene with Alright, Still in 2006, I wasn't particularly impressed with what I heard, but she changed my mind completely with 2009's It's Not Me, It's You, which had great tunes and wicked, witty lyrics to match. It was at that point I went back and listened to Alright, Still properly and appreciated it a lot more. When I saw her on the main stage of the V Festival in 2009, I think it's fair to say that I was a bit of a fan. Then, once that album had finished being promoted, there was an extended period of silence from Lily (music-wise, that is; if you follow her Twitter feed, you'll know she has been anything but silent – and good on her), a silence which was broken by 2014's Sheezus album. I have to confess that I heard a couple of tracks from this album and really didn't like what I heard, so decided to buy it when it came down to a very cheap price. This happened a couple of weeks ago and I managed to pick up the deluxe edition of Sheezus for less than three quid, but I'm afraid that I wish I hadn't bothered.
My general problem with Sheezus is that it sounds like so much other music being released at the moment, whereas, before, Lily seemed to have more of her own style and appeared to revel at being not part of the mainstream. There are lots of autotuned vocals, radio-friendly fat beats and slick production, so, musically, it really doesn't do a lot for me. The lyrics are the big saving grace of the album, although they are also hit and miss, in my opinion. The opening track, Sheezus, name-checks a lot of contemporary female artists and journalises what it's like being a modern pop princess, but I really don't care for it at all; there's something rather unconvincing about the lyrics and the less the said about the music the better. L8 CMMR is another bland pop track which sees Lily enthusing about her bloke and Air Balloon is also horribly generic with a “na na na” hook that could come from any mainstream female artist over the last five years. Thankfully Our Time is a much more palatable track; it's a shimmering, glittery song, admittedly with lyrics that make me wince from time to time, but it's much easier on the ear than anything on Sheezus so far.
Some of the songs on Sheezus are listenable, but not particularly wonderful. Insincerely Yours, for example, is a laid-back funky track, but fails to rise above the ordinary, as does Take My Place, which is surprisingly weak for the muscular power ballad it is trying to be. URL Badman is probably my personal pick from the album, as Lily deals with the kind of knuckleheaded people she meets online with her typical wit and venom (“I don't like girls much, they're kinda silly/Unless of course they want to play with my willy”), although, I have to say again, the music really isn't anything at all special. Social media is also the subject for the likeable, catchy Life For Me, with the feeling of isolation and alienation that being spectator of so many peoples seemingly fun lives can bring being explored in the song; the line about being head to toe in baby food will probably hit home for a lot of people who feel like their lives are on hold whilst they bring up children. The feminist anthem Hard Out Here is also one of the better tracks on the record and is a lot more like previous Lily Allen releases; it's just a pity that the vocals are soaked with autotune, which isn't something I really like at all. The lyrics are genuinely excellent, though.
The best attribute of Sheezus is the fact that Lily has drawn from her own life experiences (being a wife, mother, artist, lover, feminist and victim of internet trolls) and the album retains her own unique take on the world that we've become accustomed to, but this still doesn't prevent Sheezus from being the weakest Lily Allen album to date, by a considerable margin. There are plenty of sharp, intelligent (yet grounded) lyrics that will make any Lily fan smile, but there is also a discernible tiredness to some of the themes; I'm not convinced that this album was a particularly easy or natural experience for Allen, creatively, as the vast majority of the songs on offer probably wouldn't have passed quality control for her 2009 release, It's Not Me, It's You. I realise that, as a man in his early forties who isn't really into contemporary chart music, I may not be the target audience for Sheezus, but I count myself as a fan of Lily Allen's music and there's just about enough on this album for me to stick with her as he continues her musical journey. At least she is definitely still keeping it real.
Bonus disc review:
The deluxe version of this album comes with five bonus tracks, the star of which is her cover of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know, a track that backed a hit Christmas John Lewis advertisement which I'm sure many fans will have bought the deluxe version specifically for, and it is a very pleasantly performed version with Lily trilling, bird-like, over a minimalist, but pretty piano backing that grows in stature with strings, glockenspiel and percussion being introduced to the song with particularly rousing effect. I'd personally say that the first three songs on the bonus disc are very forgettable, the kind of tracks that have B-side written all over them, but the fourth song, Holding On To Nothing, is really very good indeed with heartfelt, very personal lyrics backed with a near-ELO sounding arrangement. The last two songs on the disc make the deluxe version of the album well worth having, if you were going to buy a copy of Sheezus.