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Lily Allen
Sheezus Ash O'Keeffe , May 9th, 2014 11:20

Pop has always been a self-serving and thankless taskmaster. Modern pop certainly demands a lot from its female starlets these days: looks, sass, a few fashion campaigns and a photo call at the Met Ball. You may not necessarily need a good voice (hello Ke$ha) but you do have to make sure that your songs aren't the kind that make the average listener want to shove an arm up their rectum for light relief.

The campaign around the release of Lily Allen's third album certainly had the singer tick most of these boxes to make her (once again) a de rigeur pop darling. She got herself a makeover and she looks great; made the obligatory gobby comments about her record label and (shock!) other female pop singers, and they were funny. She reconnected with Chanel boss Karl Lagerfeld to get some free shit; and of course she attended the annual smugfest hosted by Anna(-dyne) Wintour in the name of charity. So far so good.

With lead single 'Hard Out Here', Allen hit the ground running, taking a swipe at the superficiality of the music industry, rallying everyone to "forget [your] balls and grow a pair of tits", and bragging about her "baggy pussy" in the track's video (a reference to Robin Thicke's "big dick" in his 'Blurred Lines' video). But then the love affair stopped, as did the interest in her unique take on feminism. And with the woefully insipid tracks she presents on Sheezus, the rejuvenation of brand 'Lily Allen' grinds to a halt.

We all know Allen has a honeyed vocal, but liberally spiking it with autotune throughout the album has had the effect of taking tracks that might be quite pleasant, such as 'Close Your Eyes' (albeit in a dated 90s R&B sort of way), and making them crass and insufferable.

Lyrically, the petulance that Allen is renowned for is hit and miss. On the title track (Allen's little homage to another pop diva) her astute ribbing of the likes of Lady Gaga and, in particular Lorde ("Kid ain't one to fuck with when she's only on her debut") is cancelled out by a random observation about periods.

Elsewhere, the sloppy, lovey-dovey lyrics behind 'As Long As I Got You' may come with honourable intentions, but you may as well put on the Beautiful South if you're into lyrics about how great your other half is, accompanied by jaunty harmonicas. And the Warren G-lite 'Insincerely Yours' lacks the suave resolve of the track that obviously inspired it, while 'Life For Me' reminds of the calypso overkill of The Holloways (or Simon & Garfunkel if you're being more generous).

But what really makes Sheezus so frustrating, though, is that among the dross there are some genuinely interesting tracks here. Listening to 'Take My Place' you're able to envision a version of Allen sans excessive sarky bravado: it is swathed in emotive guitars, drums and above all vulnerability. 'Silver Spoon', meanwhile, is a two-finger salute to the check-your-privilege school of tedium as she sings: "So I went to posh school why would I deny it? / Silver spoon at the ready so don't even try it / Yeah the house I grew up in, it was Georgian / 10 bedrooms, beautiful proportions."

It's this obvious self-awareness and self-deprecation that makes Allen a treasure, of sorts. She may be a bundle of contradictions – one minute telling the world that she's out of the fame game, then rushing head first back into it because she "missed the rush of performing [and] free clothes and handbags and good tables in posh restaurants" – but she's one of the few pop acts that's not afraid to poke fun at her po-faced peers. And for that reason perhaps we should cut her some slack.

Apart from that cover of Keane's 'Somewhere Only We Know' - that shit's just unforgivable.