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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.