With a wit that could cut glass and bouncy tracks backing her poignant lyrics, Lily Allen made a name for herself with her debut disc, 2006’s Alright, Still. Three years later, she’s back with an equally witty but more mature sounding follow-up, It’s Not Me, It’s You.
Allen’s sophomore effort is filled with adjustments to her original musical formula. Indeed, some of her fans may be disappointed by the arguably more pop-centered sound on It’s Not Me, It’s You, for Alright, Still’s hissy, homey samples have been booted for more streamlined backdrops. Allen’s conversational and unpredictable flow has been replaced with frequently broad, upfront lines. Her journalistic wisecracks have turned inward, and she tries to tackle such big issues as religion, family strife and drug abuse. However, the push-pull between the singer’s sober side and the side that tends to be a loudmouth still makes for appealing and slippery social commentary.
On her second album, Allen takes a gamble with new electronic sounds, abandoning the faux reggae groove firmly planted on singles “Smile” and “Alfie” from her first disc. Although fans of the first album may approach her new sound with caution, It’s Not Me, It’s You manages to maintain most of her debut’s inarguable melodies. Its lead single, “The Fear,” drips in layered electronics and dance beats that – while audible on Allen’s first album – have a more memorable presence on the overall sound of her new disc. The track focuses on the illusions of fame and is part self-admission, part brag and part apocalyptic vision. On it, Allen serves up a dismal glimpse into the private lives of both famous and not-so-famous people hooked on drugs, commenting on how fast parents can get their kids on drugs without realizing they’re already addicts themselves. A well-documented party girl herself, she offers this inside look with the eyes of both a partaker and a spectator.
While the title It’s Not Me, It’s You may sound like an immature crack, its contents showcase Allen’s ability to deal with difficult and intimate themes of relationships, either before they start (“22”), while they’re going well (“Who’d Have Known,” “Chinese”), after they begin to fade (“Not Fair”) and their aftermath (“I Could Say,” “Never Gonna Happen”), with depth, maturity and humor. On the refreshing country-influenced track “Not Fair,” for example, Allen deftly displays her wit, singing about the ideal man, perfect in all aspects except the bedroom. Meanwhile she sings on “22” about how the supposed girl’s dream of “Prince Charming” seems less and less like a reality.
Aside from a couple Alright, Still-type kiss-offs – the quotable country song “Not Fair” and circus lark “Never Gonna Happen” – a sincere Allen takes grip on the remainder of the album. Family-minded tracks “Back to the Start” and “He Wasn’t There” attempt (but, unfortunately, fail) to hide tired therapy maxims behind maddening electro and faux-jazz, respectively. Although Allen tosses out disparate styles with ease, the stunt arrangements on these tracks sound somewhat divorced from her accompanying sentiments. But form meets function well on two mid-tempo love songs, “I Could Say” and especially “Who’d Have Known.” An airy, angst-free rewrite of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” “I Could Say” is both savvy and lovely, while “Who’d Have Known” is a knowing ode to early love and all the uncertainty, excitement and irrationality that often goes along with it.
Allen’s desire to be taken more seriously also encourages her to aim for the jugular at times, commenting on many of society’s vices such as absent fathers on “He Wasn’t There,” the anti-addiction anthem “Everyone’s At It” and the Bush-basher “F—- You.” When she turns up her nose at easy and familiar targets (Bush, faith, hypocritical druggies), however, the 23-year-old sometimes seems naÃƒÂ¯ve. Futuristic synths flit by as Allen condemns cracked-out teens and their prescription parents on “Everyone’s At It,” but such revelations fall just short of insightful. Righty-baiting “F—- You” utilizes Sesame Street-like piano plinks to serve its too-goofy hook and makes it clear just how easily Allen’s winsome brattiness can turn into grating novelty.
Luckily, on It’s Not Me, It’s You Allen retains much of her humor from Alright, Still and shows what she has learned musically from her own life experiences. Even if her new album can be cheaply on-the-nose and opportunistic at times, it’s still hard to root against her. Allen’s plight – bare, self-conscious, petty and fearful – is familiar. Rarely does a sophomore album outshine its predecessor, but It’s Not Me, It’s You maintains all the elements of Alright, Still that worked and amplifies them a thousand fold.