Alright, Still by the British artist Lily Allen might be the best album released this year. Certainly it is the most original and fresh, the perfect alternative to the self-aggrandizement and ennui plaguing music. It is, in short, the perfect summer album, flowing with ease and warmth but still possessing the furibundal energy of a scorned lover. Seamlessly blending elements of hip-hop and funk, it has the transcendental characteristics the average club hit does not possess.
It exists beyond nostalgia, a debut at once innocent but also stylistically assured, fresh but not gimmicky. Certainly her subjects (love, urban life) have been recorded again and again by British artists. Their peculiar, and polarized, cultural status lend them globalized gravitas, something almost no American artist has been able to achieve. However, the only artist that has, at least, remotely broken through has been The Streets. But, even he is not known by the majority of the public. Lily Allen, though, has the talent and appeal that might finally show the USA what rap music has revealed about the American underclass to the world.
Allen herself, while only 21, has the song-writing ability of someone almost twice her age. Her world-weariness is reminiscent of many a middle-aged artist, clumped in their success but wanting the glory only youth can bring. Allen is filled with that glory, the cocksure attitude and braggadocio, but it is never abrasive. At her worst, chiming on the single “Smile” that “at first when I see you cry/it makes me smile,” she is still eminently charming.
Most importantly, Allen understands pop music. She has gained (through her father Tony Allen, a musician with some minor hits in the U.K.) the need to create for her audience, while never pandering to their tastes. Songs like “LDN” with its contrasting refrains about modern London life are delivered with the utmost affability, a jarring fact given her bleak descriptions of robbers, pimps, and crack whores. Her hardscrabble upbringing has given her the tough experiences, but it is not shared for sympathy or solipsism. Allen, never pessimistically, wants to prove a point for her audience. While so many artists are screaming about theirs (and society’s) problems for the world to hear Allen simply coos “Sun is in the sky oh why oh why/Would I wanna be anywhere else?” It takes an adroit talent to do that.
The grit is still visible. “Everything’s just wonderful” speaks to a modern, new Labour Britain in which the fruits of privatization and limited government are yet to materialize.
To an educated American (or any Englishman,) these would be the invectives of “Chav” culture, a white-trash lament to be sure. Nevertheless, Allen smartly avoids the political criticism of her forebears (bands like The Specials or The Clash) in favor of a row against a society that has her, and her potential fans, “wanna be able to eat spaghetti bolognaise,/and not feel bad about it for days and days and days.” Even if that line is blunt, and a bit uncouth, coming from Allen’s mouth it is nothing short of beautiful.