Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You

On Lily Allen's sophomore disc, everything is no longer wonderful. But still catchy.

Lily Allen

It's Not Me, It's You

Contributors: Lily Allen, Greg Kurstin
Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2009-02-10
UK Release Date: 2009-02-09

For no greater reason than timing, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse may forever be linked. Two raven-haired, tart-tongued, substance-loving ladies who became media darlings/targets in the UK (and subsequently the US) within a few months of each other, their actual backgrounds and aesthetic styles are sharply different, despite occasionally sharing a producer (Mark Ronson). Nevertheless, both became headline-snagging tabloid fixtures, known more (at least in the US) for their antics than their music. Both have even spawned some blatant imitators, Duffy and Adele aping Winehouse, Kate Nash cribbing Allen.

By staying together enough to write and record a new album, despite a miscarriage and a breakup, Allen one-ups her forever beleaguered contemporary. It's Not You, It's Me follows 2006's Alright, Still, a thrilling burst of stylistically schizophrenic, youthfully nonchalant, defiantly hooky pop. For Not You, she ditches Alright’s numerous producers (including Ronson) to work exclusively with Greg Kurstin, of the Bird and the Bee fame and Geggy Tah shame. From the opening track “Everyone’s at It”, with its thick, imposing buzzsaw synths playing like the soundtrack to some dystopian, zombie-slaying arcade game, the difference is automatically noticeable. Kurstin is more about bottom-heavy grooves than loose-limbed beats, and thus the music here is often more informed by disco and house than ska and old-school R&B.

For her part, Allen delivers contagious melodies in her trademark Mockney purr, often multi-tracking her voice into a miniature chorus. While she can pen insanely potent tunes, Allen is no great lyricist. There's fewer laugh-out-loud quips and more clumsy phrases here than on Alright, Still, in part because the songs struggle to be deeper. Yet she is more comedienne than philosopher, better at taking the piss than making a point. Hence why two poorly written songs almost mar an otherwise strong disc. “Fuck You” is an infantile (check the "fuck you very, very much" refrain) potshot at narrow-minded conservatives (specifically George W. Bush), pledging the very kind of hatred it seeks to indict. Like her nemesis, she is content simply to lob bombs (hers are verbal, thankfully, and often ineffective) rather than work towards compromise and common ground. “Him” is even worse, as Lily Allen contemplates God, in what plays like a 12-year-old’s trite admission of spiritual uncertainty, complete with insignificant invocations of 9/11. She's not Andy Partridge; she's not even Joan Osborne. The lofty target is clearly out of her reach, a subject beyond her comprehension. She ought to stick to shitty boyfriends and Cheryl Tweedy.

Or womanhood. Allen is more comfortable and successful tackling the predicaments of the post-Carrie Bradshaw woman in a world of post-Woody Allen men: falsely empowered femininity trumping stilted masculinity. “Not Fair” rides a variation on the Rawhide theme into the sunset, and that Rawhide simulacrum is apparently a more satisfying muse than a sweet, chivalrous guy who is hopelessly, selfishly inept in the sack. At least on “Not Big”, the you-have-a-small-cock tirade was a form of post-breakup vengeance. Here, it seems unnecessarily nasty. Ditto the two-stepping accordion-and-handclaps stomper “Never Gonna Happen”, which dances around a smitten fuck buddy’s shattered heart with gleeful, ridiculing dominance.

First single “The Fear” is catchy enough, but it partakes in the kind of finger-wagging critique of conspicuous consumption that can only come from a privileged twentysomething, one who takes the pleasures of consumption for granted. She attacks fame-chasing exhibitionists with a Diablo Cody-level of cluelessness to the conditions that breed fame-chasing exhibitionism. Her frustration with the hollowness of the celebrity dream is palpable, especially when she affirms that “everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner”. But she casts blame not just with her “programmers” and handlers, but the fans who read about her life (often on Allen's own intimately detailed blog) in the hope of escaping their own.

But of course, for all her attacks on patriarchy and the women who fall victim to it (such as “22”), the obligatory love songs on the disc’s second half reveal it’s all a front. “Who’d Have Known” and “Chinese” thaw the frigid exterior, and expose it as merely the armor of a confused, neurotic princess, her contempt for needing a man immediately evaporating when she actually has one. A deceptively old-fashioned mélange, with drums out of “Be My Baby” and tremolo guitar plucked from “Popsicles and Icicles”, “Chinese” is easy-listening surf-pop that yearns to watch TV and gobble lo mein with some distant lover. And “He Wasn’t There” forgives the seemingly unforgivable offenses of the first man in her life: her father. The final four songs find romance, ponder God, and absolve daddy, concluding with the statement: “Now, everything’s fine”. Her disaffected sneer now a beguiling smile, she ends the album satisfied rather than snippy, as though fulfilled by what she once callously assumed unfulfilling.

Ultimately, Allen is a pop-music mean girl; like Regina George or Hilary Faye, she is a complex, study in 21st century womanhood. She reflects a culture where spoiled, overindulged young women feel not just entitled, but obligated, to become bitchy supervillains, because it sure as hell beats being a powerless victim like the confined, repressed sad sacks surrounding them. If not for this central conflict, Allen would be an insufferable git. But even when she’s infuriating, especially when she’s infuriating, she’s an enthralling performer, her personality taking her where her limited vocals cannot. Yet there is no sense that on this sophomore album, Allen has evolved as an artist. Too often, she's treading water on songs that play like Alright outtakes, and when she tries to expand, she stumbles. Like the robust, cumbersome synths that dominate the album, Allen seems stuck in her own world, a once compassionate individual losing touch with reality. Her once bubbly pop is now a bubble of isolation: still catchy, still funny, still danceable, but uncomfortably solipsistic, casting an unsparing mirror on a culture that has equated selfishness with power.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.