In Hard Out Here, the incendiary comeback single from Lily Allen after a lengthy hiatus (if, of course, we ignore the saccharine Somewhere Only We Know), she states: “I don’t need to shake my ass for you / ‘cos I’ve got a brain” – a thinly veiled dig at the commodification of the female body in the music industry. It’s admirable for an artist to not engage with sex-sells as a substitute for talent, but for Allen is seems a tad hypocritical. After all, Sheezus is an album devoid of any aesthetic value, and I contend that in using controversial didacticism to sell records, Allen isn’t really different from the artists she attempts to swipe.
I’m going to try to avoid getting caught up in the socio-political minefield that comes with attempting to engage with the assertions Allen makes in her partisan lyrics – as really I think the majority of commentators have got caught up in this discourse. Effective didactic art functions through a combination of aesthetic and the political; for instance, Orwell’s 1984 has stood the test of time as it mixes strong writing with a poignant message, or more recently, Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroine, similarly blends nuanced depictions of adolescence with adept songwriting. Despite the barrage of strong opinions, Allen’s music isn’t up to all that much, epitomised by clichéd arrangements and emphatically unforgettable hooks. Take Sheezus for example, with a mind-numbingly banal accompaniment and an instantly forgettable chorus, it’s a terrible title-track, one that would be consigned to the scrap-heap were there not inflammatory lyrics.
Unfortunately the rest of the album follows suit. L8 Cmmr and Air Balloon sound like the very nadir of MIA’s songbook, with both shifting into an unmemorable chorus, which apparently is a defining factor of the new Lily Allen, bar Hard Out Here. The tracks towards the middle of the album are intensely ill advised, from the Sex ‘N’ B of Close Your Eyes, to an apparent tirade against freedom of speech on the Internet in URL Badman. This bizarre critique of the critic apparently preempts negative reviews such as this one:
If it’s not for me
It must be wrong…
And if you’re tryna’ call it art
I’ll have to take it all apart.
This album made me appreciate Hard Out Here more than I ever thought I could, as it is a credible piece of pop. It’s the best track on Sheezus, and left me expecting an album saturated with similar political content. Yet there is no cogency, and the extent to which the tracks jar with each other is shocking. From the hedonistic ‘wild night out’ anthem, Our Time, to its antithesis, the conscientious emphasis of her new responsibilities as a mother in Life For Me, the album is hilariously incoherent, consistently attempting to yoke together conventional pop content with social commentary. Yet this isn’t Allen’s greatest sin. For behind all the inflammatory lyrics, that seeming attempt to touch base with every aspect of the celebrity zeitgeist, the musicality of Sheezus is uniformly poor. I urge you not to be drawn in by the interesting words, as they serve to disguise a real stinker of an album. I suggest you avoid it at all costs.