- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lily Allen
It’s Not Me, It’s You

On her second album, cheeky chanteuse Lily Allen signals a conditional surrender to the paparazzi and British tabloid reporters who track her every move.

The songs on “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” by turns, appeal to a sense of simple domestic joys and communicate a weariness with the drug-addled lifestyle she once appeared to exemplify.

However, the doe-eyed wastrel of 1,000 hazy club-land photographs hasn’t lost her edge. She still excels at crafting arch, minutely observed accounts of young women trying (and typically failing) to steer a balance between tedium and excess, between loneliness and codependence. And she’s still got the potty mouth - big time.

Miss Allen has given up the ska-inflected beats of her debut album, “Alright, Still.” Instead, she and producer Greg Kurstin conspire to create a more varied sound that is - with a few isolated exceptions - conspicuously unmemorable. The opening track, “Everyone’s at It,” mixes a defiant, aggressive rhythm and a pounding bass line that undergirds the theme of moral hangover and hypocrisy that drives the song. The densely layered arrangement and rough beats make it the most danceable track on the album.

It does reintroduce Miss Allen’s tic of including her own vocal line doubled on two or three words here and there - as if a clone were joining in for emphasis. This little conceit is cute in isolated instances, but as a motif (recurring in almost every song) it reeks of a lack of musical imagination.

Of course, Miss Allen’s ingenuity abides elsewhere. The single “The Fear” is a ruefully funny satire about lust for fame. The minor-key ballad is tricked out with Coldplay-like accents that can only be musical jibes. Miss Allen sings in her plaintive cockney accent, “I want to be rich, and I want lots of money/ I don’t care about clever, I don’t care about funny.”

The track “Not Fair” shows off Miss Allen at her tawdry best. In this tale of unrequited concupiscence, she sings against a clip-clopping parody of an Ennio Morricone Western soundtrack in which the time is kept by what sounds like the uninflected click of a metronome.

One song’s title can’t even be printed. It’s a gleeful 3 1/2-minute broadside against a certain former U.S. president whom curious listeners can identify from the way it expropriates the introduction from “Close to You,” a Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune made famous by the Carpenters.

However, if Miss Allen’s politics are reductive, her theology is positively inane. The track “Him” opens with arpeggiated guitar chords as if to intone a shift into solemnity, and Miss Allen follows with a bit of speculation - often comic - about what God might think about human civilization and of wars between rival religions. The song soars portentously here and there in a manner reminiscent of Sting’s early solo work, so it’s not inconceivable that the patent stupidity on display here is part of a larger joke.

If Lily Allen is Britain’s version of Britney Spears, Americans are being shortchanged. She does tabloid-style dissolution and recklessness with a certain elan lacking in her domestic counterpart. Miss Allen also did a pretty impressive version of Miss Spears’ recent hit “Womanizer” that outpaces the original in terms of mercenary detachment.

One thing the two women have in common is that it’s confusing to listen to their work without a working knowledge of their biographies. In this sense, Miss Allen’s singular talent may be self-promotion. So “It’s Not Me, It’s You” is a must-have for people compelled to keep up with Lily Allen, and it’s interesting as a cultural artifact - but musically it is a hit or miss.

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