Mu­sic No Shame

Variety - - Contents - BY CHRIS WILLMAN

Artist: Lily Allen La­bel: Warner Bros.

This late into the age of con­fes­sional song­writ­ing, when even the most bub­blegum of artists trou­ble the Top 40 with TMI, it’s rare to find an al­bum that can star­tle you with its catout- of-the-bag blunt­ness. But you get a whole lot of those “Wait, rewind that” mo­ments in Lily Allen’s “No Shame,” a col­lec­tion whose promis­ing ti­tle only hints at the em­bar­rass­ment and brazen­ness within. It’s as raw a record as you’ll hear this year, even if the Bri­tish singer’s calm tone and heav­ily pro­grammed pro­duc­tion are the pic­ture of pop re­fine­ment. Her sweet voice has al­ways been Allen’s not-too-se­cret ammo, weaponized to take down the fools she didn’t suf­fer gladly. Hear­ing her now turn that tart, dul­cet dag­ger of a tongue around on her­self makes for a brac­ing lis­ten.

Prob­a­bly two-thirds of the tracks have to do with the mar­i­tal split since her last al­bum, 2013’s “Sheezus,” so you could say that “No Shame” fol­lows in the tra­di­tion of many great rock and soul di­vorce records. Ex­cept that, as tough as Marvin Gaye was on his ex in “Here, My Dear,” for in­stance, that’s how hard Allen is on her­self. She starts out on the de­fen­sive side with the open­ing “Come On Then,” her highly quotable re­join­der to tabloid gos­sip: “Yeah, I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad wife / You saw it on the so­cials, you read it on­line / If you go on record say­ing that you know me / Then why am I so lonely, ’cause no­body fuck­ing phones me.” From there, rather than paint a more spir­ited de­fense, Allen pro­ceeds to write songs

that ad­dress what she sees as her real set­backs as a spouse and mom. Rest as­sured that she can still dish it out as well as she takes it, but the level of vul­ner­a­bil­ity re­quired to write this openly about seek­ing so­lace in “sex, al­co­hol and drugs” in the lat­ter stages of a rest­less union out­weighs even her usual level of brassi­ness. Which is say­ing some­thing.

The al­bum is di­vided roughly into thirds: The open­ing sec­tion sets some of her de­spair to sprightly rhyth­mic pop and dance­hall. Later on, a few more bal­ladic se­lec­tions strip away the good cheer to al­low things to sound as stark as they are. And then, to­ward the close, there’s a chip­per send- off as a new boyfriend ar­rives, like a deus ex machina and/or sex ma­chine, and a fe­male- em­pow­er­ment mes­sage en­sues. These bends of the arc all have their mer­its, but the songs you’ll re­mem­ber most are the more naked num­bers in the mid­dle. “Ev­ery­thing to Feel Some­thing” is an ex­cep­tion­ally pow­er­ful ex­pres­sion of how self- de­struc­tive ex­pe­ri­ences can sub­sti­tute for, and fail as, self-med­i­ca­tion, with a pretty, down­ward chord pro­gres­sion that’s spook­ily apro­pos.

On the far other end of the world­weary scale, there’s “Three,” writ­ten from the point of view of Allen’s young daugh- ter, won­der­ing why Mum would rather tour than watch her grow up. We’ve all heard vari­a­tions on this rocker-miss­ing-the-kids theme, but Allen seems de­ter­mined not to sen­ti­men­tal­ize the fre­quent sep­a­ra­tion or let her­self off the hook for it.

You can sense her war­ring with her own shame­less­ness at times, not quite sure whether to cas­ti­gate or cel­e­brate her­self for hav­ing ended a marriage in which she “turned a strong man weak.” A wiser artist might have held off — to reach a place of more ma­ture per­spec- tive be­fore mak­ing an al­bum cen­tered on the split — but we ben­e­fit from catch­ing Allen in the moment of am­bi­gu­ity about how she’s han­dled it all. Her re­fusal to put a neat bow on things also leaves room for her ir­rev­er­ence and Brit­i­cisms, though they’re toned down here. Allen is not about to com­pletely forgo trade­mark clev­er­ness, any more than she’s about to quit be­ing as con­sis­tently tune­ful as she is. Yet she’s learned that when there are emo­tions this bald and frank to con­vey, she doesn’t need to gild the Lily.

SelfIn­flicted Lily Allen turns her sharp tongue in­ward on “No Shame.”

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