“Been here before, so I’m prepared / not gonna lie though, I’m kinda scared.” The title track opening her third album acts as a succinct introduction to the life of Lily Allen in 2014, five years on from the release of It’s Not Me, It’s You. She’s weary, she knows it’s going to be messy (Let’s face it, it already is), but she rather ambitiously and egotistically attempts to rise above her fellow female popstars as the self-proclaimed ‘Sheezus’.
While the album has so far failed to produce the chart pop-smashers of Katy Perry and Beyoncé, Sheezus presents a stark dichotomy between a contemporary social commentary on women in the media and the personal trials and tribulations of being a mother and a wife. The title track mostly focuses on the former, but also references her family: “Don’t let my kids watch me when I get in the ring.” Underneath the generous helping of transparent lyrics, an undercurrent of tick-tocking “ha-ha’s” add pace and slickness to the track, creating the image of a glossy and untouchable woman of power.
This illustrious character projected in ‘Sheezus’ has not been the ruler of the album campaign though, and a ferocious Allen has had no qualms about squabbling with Twitter trolls or critical journalists (Listen to ‘URL Badman’ to get the full insult, if you’re one of these people). But while the singles she dismissed on Twitter as “docile pop rubbish” aren’t as bad as she made out, set in the context of Sheezus, they are the weaker tracks. Appearing near the beginning of the record, they have nothing of the Allen-charm which fans have come to expect from her music. In fact, they don’t really feel very much like her at all. With nondescript and impersonal subject matter, the magic is lost among the deflated chirps of ‘Air Balloon’ and the soft, tired crooning of ‘Our Time’. Thankfully, once these tracks are out of the way, the majority of the album is pumped full of trademark cheek, on life as a female, a wife, a mother, and a pop star.
While the title track enters with much bravado, the majority of the album peels away this caricature to reveal a more sensitive side, most notably displayed on ‘Take My Place’. Through muffled percussion and keys, her poignant lyrics recall heartbreaking moments of personal devastation, with the instrumentation then erupting into brash drums and guitars. Aside from this moment of desolation, the remainder of the personal songs are unfathomably catchy celebrations of the sexual prowess of her husband, in ‘L8 CMMR’, and the 90’s inspired slow-jam of fetishism ‘Close Your Eyes’ in which she menacingly promises to “yank” his “chain.” Yikes.
The final hit of the album is one which shone the brightest on first listen. ‘Hard Out Here’ suggested Sheezus would be far more of a concept album than it turned out to be, but the expletive-ridden writhing masterpiece of vocoder’d layers and buzzing synths proves that expressing an opinion, however vehemently, can still sound incredible. It proved to be controversial on release, with accusations of racism, but as it sits at the end of Sheezus, it acts as something to be admired. This is just a woman expressing how she feels, through a medium she feels comfortable with, and if you don’t like it, then you can go elsewhere. As she bluntly states in ‘Insincerely Yours’, she doesn’t really care about celebrities or your opinion, and “let’s be clear, I’m here to make money, money, money.”
Lily Allen’s personality runs through the very veins of this album, so Sheezus is definitely a Marmite record. That said, it’s difficult to not fall for the coalescence of various genres into one overall album; from the country twang of ‘As Long As I Got You’ to the plucky afropop vibe of ‘Life For Me’. While some of the pessimistic pragmatism of her previous two albums is lost, Sheezus is a deeply personal, insightful and empowering record which makes her return to music more than worthwhile.
Sheezus will be released on 5th May 2014 through Parlophone.