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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007 11:08 am

Pure pop savage delight

Give Lily Allen a listen, and forget the backstory

Lily Allen Alright, still (Capitol)
Untitled Document The Internet giveth, and the Internet taketh away. Under these harsh new conditions, the buildup-to-backlash cycle is over in the blink of a blognerd’s eye. Consider the case of Lily Allen, the 21-year-old daughter of British actor/comedian Keith Allen. The younger Allen attained It Girl status by posting MP3s, cute pix, and orthographically    challenged messages to her MySpace page; then,    baptized by buckets of cyberslobber, she parlayed her newfound fabulosity into a No. 1 single on the British charts. Predictably enough, by the time Parlophone/EMI released her debut full-length, Alright, Still, in the United Kingdom last summer, her haters were suddenly legion. They wrote her off as a spoiled brat, a poseur with a “mockney” accent, a shameless purveyor of “bitchpop.” The famously cruel British tabloids got in on the action, too,  bribing an ex-boyfriend to dish dirt on her drug use and sexual habits. All this happened before the CD even made it across the pond. So it goes: The perfect summertime record hits the States in the dead of winter, well after the fickle commentariat has decided it’s all played out. (Is this our punishment for rejecting Robbie Williams?) The good news is, once you actually hear it, in all of its easy, breezy, endorphin-generating      splendor, you won’t waste a nanosecond worrying about Allen’s backstory. Nor will you care that her chosen medium is ska-pop, a genre that should, by all laws of logic and precedent, strike fear in the hearts of right-thinking music fans everywhere. So what if a coven of Interweb dweebs complain that she’s mean (and make no mistake, she is, shockingly so at times); unless they’re prepared to condemn Eminem and pretty much every other mainstream hip-hop artist for the same crime, they’re nothing but sexist hypocrites. At its candyfloss core, Alright, Still is just a fantastic album studded with should-be singles. An improbable blend of vintage ska, springy calypso, spacious dub, and ’60s cocktail kitsch, it aspires to the condition of pure pop, light as air and almost as necessary. And even though the credits list approximately 4 gazillion musicians, co-writers,  producers, and studio fixers, very little seems labored over. In fact, maybe one reason so many people hate Allen is that she makes it all seem so maddeningly easy. She has an airy, affectless lilt and a loose, insouciant sense of timing; this larky-Lolita persona contrasts, often disturbingly, with her acidic lyrics. If Thomas Hobbes were reborn as a foul-mouthed schoolgirl, he’d probably sound a lot like Lily Allen. Crybaby ex-lovers, skeezy blokes who want her number, unfeeling loan officers, annoying slags who pick fights with her outside the club — all fall victim to Allen’s ruthless tongue. The irresistible   calypso romp “LDN” neatly conveys her gamine naturalism, this constant tension between the lovely and the lurid. Coasting along on her bike on a perfect sunny day, she notices, among other charming urban tableaux, “a fella looking dapper” who turns out, on closer inspection, to be “a pimp with his crack whore.” In the unspeakably cruel but undeniably funny “Nan You’re a Window Shopper,” a remake of 50 Cent’s “Window Shopper,” Allen describes her coupon-clipping, cat-hair-covered grandma as “rollin’ rollin’ rollin’” — with her grocery cart and her leaky colostomy bag. “Knock ’Em Out” uses a Professor Longhair sample to satirize star-crossed hookups, and the vaudeville-inspired “Alfie” is a lunatic, tuba-driven admonition to her weed-addled younger brother. Aside from the irritating meta-anthem “Take What You Take,” a half-hearted stab at stadium-ready Britpop, Alright, Still is a savage delight through and through. Like Hobbes’ description of life in a state of nature, it’s nasty, brutish, and short — much, much too short.

Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.


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