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Lily Allen - No Shame Music Album Reviews

Lily Allen - No Shame Music Album Reviews
Pilloried in the press for her every misfortune, Lily Allen scrutinizes her public persona on an album that dilutes staggering sincerity with uninspired beats.

In the four years since Lily Allen released Sheezus, her ill-received attempt at pop-culture satire, the English star has been pilloried for her every misfortune. She’s been targeted for her drinking habits, endured a very public breakup, and—most despicably—gotten blamed for the stillbirth of what would have been her only son. Tracking every sensational headline associated with Allen would require a secondary hard drive, as her public profile has always been shaped by tabloid interpretations of her private life. On her new LP, No Shame, the singer scrutinizes that persona from the perspectives of internet trolls and family members, as well as through her own self-deprecating gaze.

Thematically, Allen’s approach is more nuanced and genuine here than in the celeb-baiting bangers of Sheezus, but thin production bleeds much of the record dry, often draining the color from its impassioned material. The album’s least interesting songs sound like prefab pop, assembled and packaged for any available vocalist. The P2J-produced “Higher,” with its spare finger snaps and bonfire guitar, recalls a Justin Bieber single; Allen’s two-dimensional vocal drifts just above the mix like a paper plane losing altitude. “Your Choice” and “Lost My Mind” suffer from a similar overfamiliarity, both featuring the same rhythmic snapping and whispered lyrics. The issue isn’t that these songs are transparently bad but that they bear no trace of Allen’s personality. On each one, her point of view is buried by the unimaginative whims of her producers.

Fortunately, she resurfaces on “Waste” and “Trigger Bang,” two doses of perfect pop that could have appeared on Allen’s exceptional 2006 debut Alright, Still. The latter has some of the most varied production on No Shame (thanks to Sheezus collaborator Fryars). Its downtempo snares, moody synths, and frolicking piano make for a lovely bit of bubblegum that doesn’t lose its flavor as you chew; Allen is bolstered, not bogged down by the beat. She sounds courageous, reflecting on her gregarious party days, and making the decision to step away from them for the sake of sanity. Opener “Come On Then” is another highlight, addressing how Allen is perceived by the press and her lumpen haters. “Yeah, I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad wife/You saw it on the socials, you read it online,” she coos over a frantic drum machine. Her tone is subtly barbed but vulnerable, a duality she conveys well.

That vulnerability is the record's greatest asset, and Allen communicates it most effectively in the mid-album triptych “Family Man,” “Apples,” and “Three”—ballads that find her wandering the rubble of her marriage and slumping under the weight of parenthood. “Family Man,” produced by Mark Ronson, showcases her most powerful vocal delivery, as she implores her partner to stay while reminding him of her irreparable flaws. Fashioned from even greater despair, “Apples” is the bedridden acceptance of failure that follows the pleading. In her shrinking falsetto, Allen lists off milestones of a defunct relationship as if she’s flipping through her wedding album with a handle of vodka in hand.

“Three” is No Shame’s most affecting song. Over sparse barroom piano, Allen laments being left by a loved one. Its opening measures could be sung from the point of view of a pining wife or a desperate husband, but the perspective shifts when she confesses, “This afternoon I made a papier-mâché fish, mum/I made it just for you/Please don’t go/Stay here with me/It’s not my fault, I’m only three.” It’s a staggering moment, one that communicates the yearning of a child, the guilt of a parent, and the societal pressure to be a perfect mother, all in a couple of concise lines.

If Sheezus was Allen at her most ironic, Allen’s new album marks a return to sincerity—and its assessments of motherhood, failing relationships, and infamy are penetrating. Sadly, these potent themes are often diluted by antiseptic production. The press may love to pile on Lily, but it isn’t her persona that undermines No Shame. Blame it on the beat.

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