Amid the latest wave of British poppettes, Lily Allen is the one whose sharp tongue avoided being totally derailed by substance abuse problems à la Amy Winehouse. And while Allen's troubles did include a number of drunken public spectacles and a highly publicized miscarriage, she's built on the success of her 2007 debut Alright, Still. But while that project was a delicious amalgamation of ska, reggae, and other esoteric samples that brought to mind the Streets breaking bread with the Specials at a Manchester house party, Allen's sophomore effort is more straightforward.
Rather than work with a handful of collaborators, the 23-year-old pop ingenue retained the bird and the bee's Greg Kurstin to produce. Not surprisingly, Allen's public and private lives are ripe for analysis, whether she's claiming to be "a weapon of mass consumption" amid the thumping synths of "The Fear" or decrying to an inept lover that When we go up to bed you're just no good as a postmodern country-music cadence informs "Not Fair." Elsewhere, these songs allow her to vent about the shortcomings of her father (music-hall ditty "He Wasn't There"), unfair expectations for twentysomething women (the poppy anthem "22"), and conservatives (the puerile "Fuck You").
There's plenty to like about Allen letting it all fly free, particularly when she stashes the snark and allows some vulnerabilities to shine through, such as she does on the airy synth-pop of "Chinese." But Kurstin's straightforward production nuances have Lily Allen going from great to merely good. (Capitol)
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