Monday, July 6, 2009

Album Review: It's Not Me, It's You

Lily Allen's most recent album, It's Not Me, It's You is a disappointment. That's a compliment. Ms. Allen built her reputation on being a foul-mouthed, unapologetic musician who's previous album, Alright, Still, dealt with issues ranging from her little brother's pot addiction to a man being "less than equipped" in the size department. All of these songs were laced with an inherent sarcasm that came from the juxtaposition of her light delivery with her nasty lyrics. In that sense, most people expected It's Not Me, It's You to contain the same attitude. It a degree. When it comes to the biting sarcasm of her debut, it seems that Allen is giving us the diet version of her typical attitude. Instead, she reaches not only for larger social commentaries but also for more personal and introspective sounds. So, her album is disappointing if you are looking for more of the same. However, it's a surprisingly richer and more mature album than expected. That's the compliment.

Before discussing the changes in It's Not Me, It's You, let's briefly discuss what this album has in common with Alright, Still. The two most blatant attempts at recreating her trademark sarcasm are Not Fair and Never Gonna Happen. Now, Not Fair should suffice for those wanting to hear more of Allen's potty humor. To what could best be described as a hodown beat, Allen sings about the virtues of a man and how those virtues mean nothing because this man is terrible in the sack. The song is actually one of the strongest tracks on the album, because of it's biting lyrics and original instrumentation. Never Gonna Happen is arranged in an inventive way, yet the lyrics don't quite match the sardonic nature of Not Fair or even Smile from Allen's debut. Overall, the bite is there, it's just not as sharp as it used to be.

Instead, Allen tries to save some of her wit for tackling societal issues. This leads to mixed results. The Fear, the lead single from the album, is an effective criticism of celebrity culture and society's obsession with it. When Allen sings "I am a weapon of massive consumption/And it's not my fault/It's how I'm programmed to function" you can't help but wonder if there's something slightly self-referential in her words, considering what a tabloid staple Allen has been in recent years. Some of her other attempts are less perceptive. Fuck You, a song dedicated to George W. Bush, would have been better served as a vague reference to bigots in general. It perfectly captures the tone of Alright, Still's best tracks. However, once the final verse comes and it's apparent this song is dedicated to GWB, the song seems outdated and slightly tacky. It's a shame, because the rest of the song is so strong. Finally, Everyone's At It is a ditty that expresses how Allen is tired of doing drugs but that drugs are everywhere...and that's just how things are. Allen want to know when everyone will be tired of "putting shit up our noses" but then suggests society should acknowledge drug usage, because, as the title says, "everyone's at it." The point of this song is unclear, something Allen admits when she says "I get involved but I'm not advocating." It seems like this is meant to be a criticism of drug usage, but Allen seems to be treading carefully to avoid hypocrisy. Treading lightly is not Allen's strong point.

The most surprising aspect of It's Not Me, It's You is the tender moments. Who'd Have Known and Chinese are lovely songs that show Allen's softer side. Who'd Have Known details a friendship blossoming into a new romance with such lyrics as "And even though it's moving forward/It's just the right amount of awkward/And today you accidentally called me baby." Chinese is a very pretty ode to spending time at home with family and friends, something Allen must miss while she's on tour. The way Allen is able to balancing waxing sentimental and being sarcastic shows a maturation in her sound, something that might suggest Allen has staying power. Although It's Not Me, It's You isn't perfect, it shows that Allen is making progress towards striking a sublime balance between sarcasm and sentiment.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Savage Songs: Not Fair, The Fear, and Who'd Have Known

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