The singer's candid but cliched return won't win her any new disciples
Lily Allen’s third album arrives following an odd publicity campaign that’s mostly consisted of her apologising for it. When a fan tweeted that her first new material in five years was “docile pop rubbish”, she agreed, saying her label wouldn’t support “the better stuff” on her third album. In a way it validates lead single ‘Hard Out Here’, a well-intentioned critique of the industry’s subjugation of women whose message was lost beneath its racially dubious video. But it also completely undermines it: how does kowtowing to your label’s demands tally with being strident enough to call your record ‘Sheezus’? If there’s leaders and followers, doesn’t that make Allen a swallower?
Allen recently explained that the low-slung title-track didn’t get radio playlisting because it mentions periods. If it’s true, then fuck those stations. But for all Allen’s insistence that the record itself is Actually Very Daring, the lyric concerned says nothing: “It makes me angry/I’m serious”, she sings of the industry pitting female artists against one another. “But then again I’m just about to get my period”. There’s a sample of a crowd gasping, contriving shock factor at her weak satire. She goes on: “Periods, we all get periods/Once a month, yeah/That’s what the theory is”. That theory is called science, while this lyric exemplifies ‘Sheezus’’ empty grandstanding, trying to say something about female oppression, but not knowing quite what.
‘Sheezus’ is an incredibly egocentric record, impossible to separate from Allen herself. Occasionally it works in her favour: her candidness about post-motherhood sexuality is the relatable flipside to Beyoncé’s powerful flawlessness (the island pop of ‘Life For Me’; pastichey slow jam ‘Close Your Eyes’), though there’s a lot of nauseating stuff about “spicing it up”, and an overload of asinine domesticity pap here – ‘As Long As I Got You’ sounds like a fairground organ playing country music, ‘Air Balloon’ is MIA-lite and ‘Our Time’ is a clichéd tribute to nights out. While you imagine Allen sees ‘Silver Spoon’ as a self-aware comment on her privileged background, it comes off as unpleasant self-aggrandising; referencing mansions and 4x4s, it feels like she’s trying to ape rap bravado, forgetting the generations of oppression that underpin the culture’s proud materialistic streak.
Although not by much, ‘Sheezus’’ best song is EDM wig-out ‘URL Badman’, an invigorating pop at internet trolls and the closest she gets to recapturing the vigour of 2006’s ‘Alright, Still’. But it’s ironic that the album’s highest point concerns the internet: Allen’s old sharp eye feels watery on ‘Sheezus’, squinting at the discourse around feminism, race and privilege unfolding online in 2014, and riding them as a bandwagon back to the middle of the very space the Myspace-spawned pop star once owned, but not having the conviction to do much with them once she’s arrived. For all Allen’s excuses, the naff ‘Sheezus’ is the sorriest.