The title track, which opens the album, is a lyrical takedown of today’s leading pop-stars.
All in good pun
When Lily Allen announced her third studio album would be titled Sheezus, the music press and Twitter-sphere went into a tizzy with suggestions it was a desperate attempt to cash in on the notoriety of Kanye West’s abrasive 2013 album Yeezus.
However, fans and those familiar with Allen’s career knew there was something less sinister behind the move.
In fact, the title-name is more of a homage to the Chicago rapper, as both artists share more commonalities than differences; both are avid culture vultures and creators of daring pop music. Both of them also have trouble keeping their mouths shut.
Therefore it wasn’t surprising the title track, which opens the album, is a lyrical takedown of today’s leading pop-stars.
Katy Perry’s rivalry with Rihanna is dismissed as “Ri-Ri isn’t scared of Katy Perry’s roaring” while Lady Gaga is labelled as a “martyr” and “dying for her art”.
Meanwhile, the dour-faced Kiwi starlet Lorde is described as quietly lurking as “she smells blood, yeah, she’s about to slay you.”
Allen keeps listeners guessing whether she is doing this in jest, but it’s those cute “ahas” and quirky sound effects of racing cars convincing us it is all fun.
Throughout her last two albums, Allen thrilled us by pairing her lyrical directness with sunny, stripped-down melodies.
Despite a four-year stretch since her last release, Sheezus continues in that vein, with Allen and long-time producer Greg Kursten slightly expanding the musical palette.
L8 CMMR, Allen’s sincere ode to her husband, is anchored by a percolating beat before giving way to a breezy chorus, complete with warm synths and strings.
The G-Funk flavoured Insincerely Yours is reminiscent of Warren G’s Regulate with its cool swagger and creeping keyboards.
It is also another display of Allen’s lyrical prowess as she describes her disenchantment at being invited to an uber-hipster party.
“I’m not your friend and I can’t pretend, I ain’t being funny,” she sighs. In the scathing URL Badman, Allen acerbically skewers her online bullies.
Over a strident dubstep beat, Allen mixes venom with wit as she describes the trolls’ motivations: “A keyboard warrior that can’t spell, I don’t like you, I think you’re worthless I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress.”
It is only when the subjects and musical vision are blurry that Sheezus sags. The power-ballad Take My Place feels out of place and middle-of-the road; it also betrays Allen’s thin voice, which is best suited when wrapped around slinky rhythms.
The jaunty As Long As I Got You, complete with its Bo Didley beat and New Orleans soul influences, also seems forced and verging on novelty.
Ultimately, Sheezus is not the knockout punch Allen is capable of, but she is surely getting there. It is also another reminder that she is that rare pop star who gives equal attention to the words as well as the music.