It’s no great revelation to say that Lily Allen’s 2014 comeback LP ‘Sheezus’ was something of a misfire. Failing to match the deliciously witty nuance and cutting social commentary that had categorised her first two albums of superlative pop, it seemed that five years out of the game had cooled the singer’s precision-dart pen. Rather than cleverly soundtracking the often ill-advised exploits of her generation, it felt like Lily Mk II just didn’t really know what she wanted to say.
Fast forward four years and here we are at a follow-up that, it’s fair to say, many may have assumed would never happen. Having openly admitted that she had something of an “identity crisis” on LP3, this time she’s entering the ring under a largely different set of circumstances. Where ‘Sheezus’ thrust forward slightly clunky tales of being a mother and wife, now Lily is publicly separated: a theme that runs heavily throughout ‘No Shame’. She’s also stated that, following a series of potentially iffy decisions made by her label last time around, this time she’s been working more independently. And, while ‘No Shame’ still doesn’t quite reach the dizzying pop peaks of her early work, there’s a definite sense here that Lily’s got her mojo back, on her own terms.
Lead single ‘Trigger Bang’, featuring grime star Giggs, easily sits alongside any of her best work. Breezily melodic with the singer’s trademark airy trill, it’s an effortless earworm and a sharp, biting ode to a dangerously addictive nature. Lyrically, it’s this almost painful rawness that categorises the album throughout. If ‘No Shame’ as a title could be read as a sassy kiss off to her many detractors, then even a cursory listen through the almost uncomfortably personal nature of its 14 tracks shows that Lily’s actually gunning for something far more vulnerable here. From the refrain of “I’m a bad mother / I’m a bad wife / You’ve seen it on the socials / You read it online” that runs through opener ‘Come On Then’, it’s clear that the aim is to address these preconceptions by laying bare the truth in painful detail.
On sentimental ballad ‘Three’, she sings from the perspective of her daughter, highlighting the disappointment of having a mother who’s always off on tour (“Please don’t go / Stay here with me / It’s not my fault”). On the anxious slow jam of ‘Everything To Feel Something’, she speaks of having meaningless one night stands and “giving all [her] worth to someone else”. On ‘What You Waiting For’ she talks about the confusion of life after separating (“Never thought we’d be this couple / Run at the first sign of trouble”). Coupled with Lily’s often feather-light vocal and doused over modern, minimal beats, the effect is starkly intimate. It means that when she throws in the lush pianos of ‘Family Man’ (melodically reminiscent of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’) or the cheeky reggae lilt of ‘Waste (feat. Lady Chann)’, they’re even more welcome moments of atmospheric respite.
Realistically, ‘No Shame’ is about 30% too long. Among all the other, better dissections of her situation, the plinky, mildly irritating ‘My One’ isn’t necessary. There’s also something a bit tonally repetitive about the lyrical disillusionment and musical restraint recipe that seeps through the three-track run of ‘Your Choice’, ‘Lost My Mind’ and ‘Higher’. Closer ‘Cake’, meanwhile, is fine but ultimately adds little. Overall, however, ‘No Shame’ goes a long way to restoring Lily’s previous position at the top end of pop’s pile. She’s not quite there yet, but after a wobble that could have sunk lesser personalities, she’s found a sound that feels authentic again. And that’ll do for now.
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