Lily Allen’s ‘Sheezus’ Is a Tepid Mess of Bitch Bombs and Botched Satire
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Label: Warner Brothers
Oh, Lily. You so had us when we first saw you eating chocolate in bed and slipping laxatives into the cheating ex’s coffee, all over a bubbly reggae groove. And you certainly grabbed us when you gleefully told George W. Bush to go fuck himself. You’ve even managed to sprinkle all this caustic fun with some lucid commentary on drug use, celebrity, ageism, God, and your own father. But now, a feminist statement cloaked in sarcasm about pop’s most privileged princesses? As a whip-smart anti-pop star, we had high hopes you could outwit RiRi, Queen B, Katy, Lorde, Gaga — all the targets of your veiled praise on “Sheezus” — instead of coming off as The Lonely Island’s bitter sister.
Allen’s third album no doubt elicits some giggles, but whether they’re directed more toward Lily herself, the desperate narcissists she slams in “Insincerely Yours,” or the infamous Internet trolls working from their parents’ basement in “URL Badman” is an open question, one that Allen herself doesn’t seem to have the answer to. As we all know, anything that finds success nowadays must ultimately be mocked to the eye-rolling nadir where it’s hard to discern sincerity from sarcasm. Allen is attuned to this sincerity vortex, but in attempting to subvert it she instead succumbs to it, with her own candidness and rawness — what was so compelling about her past two albums — getting lost in the process.
When she educates us on the “theory” of menstruation on the throbbing DJ Dahi-produced title track or namedrops like a sycophantic rapper throughout, it reeks of Lady’s Gaga’s shock-tactic vomit: Allen’s simply trying too hard. It’s unfortunate, because she has such a great sense for wrapping shrewd wordplay around an irresistible hook, especially alongside longtime music partner Greg Kurstin, who has helped her create that quirky electro-ska-pop punch since her 2006 debut.
It’s also unfortunate that she sticks some of the better songs on Sheezus toward the end — including “Hard Out Here,” a feminist-pop critique that’s actually straight-up saying something (albeit via Auto-Tune abuse and a fusillade of “bitch” bombs): “Inequality promises that it’s here to stay/ Always trust the injustice ’cause it’s not going away,” she glitchily raps. Then there’s “Life For Me,” a slick tropical-pop track that reveals some of the real Allen, a woman finally feeling content with giving up the party life for motherhood. Or is she? Because it contradicts “Take My Place,” a twangy ballad turned grand New Wave symphony that has Lily confessing in her (seemingly) serious cockney croon, “I’d give everything I own if someone else could take my place.” It’s one of many mixed messages here.
Even when she attempts sincerity it confusingly comes off as satire gone sour, like when Allen dedicates two loving odes to her husband — “L8 CMMR,” devoted to his tantric-like sexual prowess, and “As Long As I Got You,” a hand-clapping, foot-stomping zydeco charade that has Lily admitting, “Staying home with you is better than sticking things up my nose.” But it’s hard to believe even that sentiment when it comes after the dreamy, up-all-night, synth-pop party jam “Our Time.” On “Silver Spoon,” too, it’s tough to detect exactly whom she’s directing the song to (herself?), especially when she throws in a line like “only made it here because of my daddy” and adds machine-gun beats a la M.I.A., who herself has battled with playing privileged pop star while still trying to offer a meaningful, relatable message.
That dissonance is what Allen — now, officially, a full-blown scandalous pop star across all ponds — fails to contend with on Sheezus. Her attempt at convincing us she’s a loving wife and mother of two, a savvy feminist, and a satirical mastermind mostly comes off as disingenuous. It sounds like all she really wants is that crown, bitch.