After 2014's patchy 'Sheezus', one of British pop's most distinctive voices rediscovers her sense of self.
Lily Allen’s last album Sheezus wasn’t terrible, but she’s recently admitted she “made a record for the record company” and felt she “couldn’t sell it”. No Shame, which arrives a little over four years later, definitely redresses the balance. It’s a more low-key, vibey album without obvious hit singles which contains some of her most candid songwriting. It’s also consistently gripping and very affecting.
Since Sheezus, Allen has split from Sam Cooper, the father of her kids, and their marriage breakdown dominates No Shame‘s midsection. “Don’t be upset babe, I’ve always said a man can’t own me,” she sings with a shrug of resignation on ‘Your Choice’. The woozy ‘Lost My Mind’ perfectly captures the gnawing torture of watching your phone while waiting on someone to finally get home. Most heartbreaking is ‘Apples’, on which Allen connects her own divorce to that of her parents. “I had to do it baby, we were both depressed,” she sings over a strikingly simple keyboard backing. “There was an end, we were not even having sex.”
But it would be misleading to call No Shame a break-up album. Allen also confronts her maternal guilt on ‘Three’ and disses a shitty ex-mate on ‘Waste’. As ever, she saves her most lacerating observations for herself. “Anything went, I was famous, I would wake up next to strangers, everyone knows what cocaine does,” she sings on lead single ‘Trigger Bang’, a devastating dissection of her old hard-partying lifestyle. Working with producers including Mark Ronson, Fryars and Bloodpop, Allen couches her confessional lyrics in coolly subdued electro-pop tunes with dancehall and reggae inflections plus a couple of texturising guest raps: Giggs kickstarts ‘Trigger Bang’, rising star Lady Chann lights up ‘Waste’. There’s the odd curveball, too: the swelling piano balladry of ‘Family Man’ almost feels like a modern take on The Carpenters.
Surprisingly but stirringly, No Shame actually concludes with its most upbeat run of tunes. “Eventually you’ll get a piece of that patriarchy pie,” Allen tells her female listeners on ‘Cake’. ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ may be a sweet love song about looking forward to growing old with someone, but Allen still manages to take a jab at Daily Mail readers who “vote for their interests”. And ‘My One’ is a sex-positive bop filled with witty couplets which hark back to her 2006 debut Alright, Still.
By the end, it’s hard to deny No Shame represents the woman who made it: it’s a smart, self-aware and compellingly imperfect record with a pretty unique point of view.
No Shame is out on Jun 8 2018