Monday, July 18, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 890: Lily Allen

This past weekend is the first in a while that I haven’t bought a new album. I half-heartedly tried to sell one (Liz Phair’s “Juvenilia”), but was coldly rebuffed “High Fidelity” style by the record store owner. That’s fine though, I’m glad to keep it.

Disc 890 is….Alright, Still
Artist: Lily Allen

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover? This cover shouldn’t work, but it does. A hodgepodge of images loosely based on the infectious tune about London (“LDN)” that appears on the record. Lily herself looks great, the perfect combination of sass and playful, with a look on her face that lets you know there’s a whole lot going on behind those eyes.

How I Came To Know It: This is one of Sheila’s albums, recommended to her by a friend and former coworker.

How It Stacks Up:  We have two of Lily Allen’s three albums, and I like them both but I think I like “Alright, Still” the best so I’m ranking it #1; a traditional practice when discussing things we like best.

Ratings: 4 stars

You expect an album beginning with a song titled “Smile” to put a smile on your face, and Lily Allen’s “Alright, Still” does not disappoint. This is a fine piece of pop art that defies genres and is delightfully brave and crazy throughout.

Allen is a diminutive Brit with a consistently sharp wit and an occasionally foul mouth, who sings about sex and the life of the single girl in London. It is irresistible pop music, tinged with reggae beats and hip hop flavour. Allen’s greatest skill is her timing which is as sharp as any rapper, but it never comes at the expense of her voice, which is rich and sweet. The combination is an album that makes you tap your feet, lifts your soul and puts a wry smile on your face.

Despite the upbeat feel to the record, there is an undercurrent of a nasty breakup that keeps the record grounded. This is an album full of women scorned and out on the town looking for a drink, a fuck or a fight with equal enthusiasm.

There is no better example of this juxtaposition than the opening track, “Smile” which has an Amy Winehouse hip hop/jazz feel to it that loosens your spine and makes you want to dance and drink a martini. The song’s tune is friendly, but the lyrics are a dismissal of an ex-lover, not a dream for rapprochement. This is a girl that smiles when she imagines her ex having a cry. No self-loathing here; the tears on “Alright, Still” are for the idiots foolish enough to cross the woman with the microphone.

Even more fun is Allen out on the town. “Knock ‘Em Out” is a song about extricating yourself from some loser buying you a drink that you have no interest in. This is a problem I’ve never encountered but I understand is a rampant condition of beautiful women. The song works in a trilling piano and some wanton horn flourishes to add to the carnival environment at is every pick up bar ever.

Equally fun is “Friday Night” but this time rival girls at the club are the target of Allen’s sharp tongue. The song has a sultry bass and funky beat and hilarious lyrics like:

“In the club make our way to the bar
Good dancing love, but you should have worn a bra.”

And my personal favourite dig from a nasty song about an ex called “Not Big” which isn’t content to advertise a man’s shortcomings, without adding what a bore he was in the sack:

“I could see it in your face when you give it to me gentle
Yeah you really must think you’re great
Let’s see how you feel in a couple of weeks
When I work my way through your mates.”

Despite multiple zingers on “Alright, Still” that are just as good as that, they lose something without the infectious melody of the song and Allen’s flawless delivery. Like a good nightclub story, it just doesn’t translate if you don’t experience it yourself.

Near the end of the record the momentum gets a little blunted. “Little Things” is supposed to be more heartfelt, but it was missing the edge of the earlier tracks. “Take What You Want” sounds a lot like a Blur song (I don’t really like Blur) and “Friends of Mine” is a passable reggae song, but I prefer when the record strays into the reggae beat rather than giving itself over to it wholeheartedly. None of these songs are terrible; they just aren’t as incredible as the ones that preceded it. By this point I had so thoroughly fallen for Allen’s charms it didn’t matter.

The record ends with “Alfie”a song about her brother, Alfie Allen (who is most famous for playing Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones). This is long before Alfie eclipsed his sister’s fame, and here she takes obvious delight painting him as a couch-surfing dope-smoking slacker. The love here shines through, though, and the song shows Allen at her most playful. Most of the record to this point is a delightful load of nasty, coated in chocolate and sugar to make it go down easier. With her brother she takes the edge off.

This record may be a bit nasty, but that just makes it more delicious. It is also brimming over with top-notch pop hooks and melodies.  On my walk home today the sky was overcast, but listening to “Alright, Still” I felt as bathed in sunshine as Katrina and the Waves.

Best tracks:  Smile, Knock ‘Em Out, LDN, Not Big, Friday Night, Alfie

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