I was a latecomer to the Lily Allen bandwagon. When she first appeared, with ‘LDN’ and ‘Smile’, I couldn’t really see why she was so noteworthy. I eventually picked up the album when a supermarket was offering it for a few quid and started to think there might be more going on here than I’d previously realised. The way in which ‘Knock ‘Em Out’ is built around a Professor Longhair sample made me sit up and take notice of some genuinely clever pop music being crafted by this intriguing new pop star.
And few people have deserved the tag ‘pop STAR’ this decade more than Lily Allen. She has been fantastic value when it’s come to outrageous quotes and she has been so refreshingly open and honest about her views on not just music but everything else going on around her that it came back to haunt her when she attempted to engage people in a civilised debate on file sharing and illegal downloads. This seems to have caused something of a retreat from the world of celebrity and potentially music making and you can only hope that it’s a short term break rather than a full-blown retirement, as her second album is one of the greatest pure pop records I’ve heard, well, ever.
When ‘The Fear’, under a different name, first appeared on her Myspace page in the middle of 2008 it was pretty clear that the Lily Allen of ‘Alright, Still’ had made some fairly substantial sonic progress. Beautifully structured, ridiculously catchy and with effortlessly hilarious lyrics, it has been one of the defining songs of 2009. What is all the more noteworthy is the fact that such an enormous single doesn’t actually overshadow the rest of the record, so phenomenally strong is the song writing found within. Lyrically, the album is never less than excellent and often genuinely thrilling. Her consideration of how God might view the world in the 21st century in ‘Him’, is wonderfully written:
Do you think He’d drive in his car without insurance?
Now is He interesting or do you think he’d bore us?
Do you think His favourite type of human is Caucasian?
Do you reckon He’s ever been done for tax evasion?
Of course, that may make you shrug your shoulders and dismiss it as someone trying to be clever, in which case, as the not-so-mighty Cast might say, walk away. It is very much an album to listen to properly. You can’t let the lyrics wash over you – they simply won’t allow you to do it.
Obviously this is no way to judge quality, but I am up to four different copies of this album. I have the original vinyl pressing – which caused me no end of aggro attempting to find one that played smoothly but with minimal joy (although the new stylus seems reasonably happy with it) – the US picture disc vinyl as some kind of replacement, the UK CD which I bought whilst waiting for a replacement of the vinyl and then the recent CD/DVD reissue which features a wonderful acoustic session, some splendid remixes and a bizarrely brilliant cover of ‘Mr Blue Sky’. The DVD’s not bad either, but hardly essential. (This last version is already down to £7.48 on Amazon – treat yourself, go on.) I’ve lost count of how much I’ve played this album throughout 2009. Every time I press play or pop the needle onto the vinyl, it sounds as fresh and downright fun as it did the very first time. It’s joyous, it’s punch-the-air entertainment and it’s one of the finest examples of pop music that this country has produced in years. I make no apologies for this one appearing so high in my list. It really is that good.