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No Shame, Lily Allen’s fourth album, opens with the following line, ‘Yeah I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad wife, you saw it on the socials, you read it online’. This is the kind of no-filter, post-Heat magazine celebrity culture confessional that we used to hearing from this massively successful and influential singer. Maybe the surprise then is that a large part of this record is thoughtful, moving and introspective.
2014’s Sheezus saw Allen take her eye off the ball and the subsequent drop in quality resulted in a career wobble experienced for the first time since her 2006 debut. The changes on No Shame are subtle for the best part but do the trick in re-creating Allen as a sympathetic and engaging character again, and one who understands how to construct a delectable pop melody few of her contemporaries can match.
The first half of No Shame is the most chaotic and occasionally muddled section of the record and where Allen most seems to try and forge a new sound dependent on features and vocal effects that render her almost absent from her own music. For an artist as vocally persuasive and appealingly domineering as Allen, this experiment doesn’t always pay off.
The steely-eyed aforementioned album opener ‘Come on Then’ eschews guest vocalists and autotune and is the better for it whilst single ‘Trigger Bang’ has a morbid edge that works well with the verses sing-song accessibility. Regular producer Greg Kurstin is out whilst Mark Ronson returns albeit fleetingly and reggae and ragga sounds dominate No Shame’s sonic landscape.
Placed in the middle of the album there is a triptych of songs that prove that Allen has grown considerably as a songwriter and a performer and which makes a solid case for her continuing to do what she does. Fame has not bought her happiness and her career choice seems intertwined with a self-sabotaging default mode that Allen pulls us deep into here.
‘Apples’ is a warm-sounding guitar ballad with up-close and intimate vocals and where Allen confirms that she has repeated the same mistakes made by her family, separated and with kids shuttling between two parents.
‘Three’ is sung from the prospective of Allen’s child who just wants to see her mummy more often. This gloomy portrait on Allen’s family, past and present, is rounded off with a devastating rumination on emotional vacancy and is called ‘Everything to Feel Something’, the list of which includes sex, pills and dugs. It’s horribly sad stuff.
A sense of fun and Allen’s brilliant and bolshy crudeness returns to play the album out with a campy wink on the lovers-around-the-world ‘My One’, the kind of charismatic, music-hall type song which could have appeared on any of her previous albums. ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ taps into her romantic side with a disarming warmth and humour with references to her down-to-earth contemporary Britishness (sometimes at least) that has been a large part of Allen’s appeal since the beginning.
‘Eventually you’ll get a piece of that patriarchal cake’ Allen promises on the rousing and topical feminist album closer ‘Cake’. With that she’s off and back onto Twitter for the night; defending, provoking and trying to get on with a life that she can’t seem to help but continue to play out in public.