I am concerned about the long-term sustainability of Lily Allen's obsession with writing songs about her unsatisfying sexual encounters. For her own sake, I hope this is not an inexhaustible resource. First, she cooed, "I'm going to tell the world you're rubbish in bed now" on the hilariously literally titled "Not Big," one of the finer acidic ska-pop ditties on her 2006 debut, Alright, Still. Two years, one miscarriage, and countless tabloid controversies later, on the new It's Not Me, It's You, the lethally saucy Londoner returns with "Not Fair," a far less ridiculous title for a far more ridiculous song. Against a resoundingly goofy quasi–spaghetti Western backdrop, Allen describes her near-perfect boyfriend and his fatally flawed bedside manner: "I look into your eyes, I want to get to know you/And then you make this noise and it's apparent it's all over." Further complaints: "You never make me scream," "I spent ages giving head," "All you do is take." Here we have "Jizz in My Pants" from the female perspective.
Allen recently crowed to an interviewer that she played "Not Fair" for the poor chump who inspired it, although he remains nonetheless oblivious; I, meanwhile, am wondering how many more poor chumps she intends to shame. What happens when she runs out of lousy lovers? Will she start trawling junior highs, or screenings of Watchmen? Or will she just write more songs about drugs, celebrity, God, and George W. Bush?
Great on those first two. It's Not You sadly dumps much of Alright's feather-light, kiddie-reggae effervescence, with busier synth-pop enormo-jams that threaten to bury our acerbic heroine. But Allen survives. The contrast between the lithe cheerfulness of her delivery and the vicious bite of the sentiments she delivers is astounding. "I want loads of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds/I hope people die while they're trying to find them," she purrs on "The Fear," a (presumably) sarcastic celebration of tabloid hedonism — "I look at The Sun and I look in the irror," etc. "Everyone's at It," meanwhile, is a remarkably earnest drug-abuse hand-wringer, rhyming "adolescents" with "antidepressants" and "Prozac" with "takes crack." Completing the Societal Ills Trifecta is "22," a sort of violent Sex and the City corrective about party-animal late-twentysomethings horrified by the notion they're now pushing 30 with nothing tangible to show for it: "It's sad but it's true how society says her life is already over."
This is big game Allen is hunting: quietly seething assaults on the sexist celebrity-meltdown industry that vaulted her to fame in the first place. (Britney Spears has been on this warpath for years.) As such, they're far from devastating Oscar Wilde bon mots, but she's crass and overwordy and precocious and painfully clever in a way that's still somehow winsome.
Yes, Allen's odes to God (the befuddling "Him," in which our deity's favorite band is revealed to be Creedence Clearwater Revival) and GWB (long story short, its title is "Fuck You") are pretty terrible. And the aforementioned lousy-in-bed series is either a dead end or absolutely not worth the personal trauma it'd take to keep alive. But some combination of simple and complex, sweet and unbearably bitter, helps elevate her somewhat over the Pinks, the Kate Nashes, the (grrr!) Katy Perrys. Odd, then, that her high points are still relatively uncerebral love songs: "We'll eat Chinese and watch TV" presented as romantic utopia.
At a recent New York show, she hit hardest with Alright's "Dreams," a breezy and wistful lamentation of a bygone love affair that never tips over into cynicism or sarcasm or unbearable cleverness. She sings the hell out of it, and then "Smile" (her big cynical hit about the deadbeat ex-boyfriend whose pain makes her happy), and then the one about wanting fuckloads of diamonds, and then, for the hell of it, her brusque cover of Spears' "Womanizer." There are still so many inept boys left to embarrass.