Thursday, January 31, 2008

The top 10 albums of 2007: No. 5

Lily Allen
Alright, Still

479,895 MySpace fans can't be wrong.

(OK, they could be, but they're not.)

Alright, Still is a creative, good-humored debut with a summery splash, and Lily Allen comes across as a firecracker, a brat and a well-meaning sister. But she's a lovable protagonist
to root for in any form.

In "Knock 'Em Out," she's a social commentator. She jokes about a common plight for ladies in pubs and clubs: unwanted advances from guys who just can't take a hint. As a breezy piano run intermixes with sax honks and busy electro beats, Allen explains the song's premise in a monologue, almost as if "Knock 'Em Out" were a blurb in a women's magazine. Switching her point of view, she creates a scenario and jumps in and out of the scene, adding asides and the peeved woman's inner thoughts. She starts to rattle off sample excuses but cracks up at "my house is on fire."

"Knock 'Em Out" wins points for pulling off exposition and snap shifts in perspective, but it's also comedic. I mean, what can you do when the pest won't go away? The fact that the consideration of knocking someone out even enters her mind is hilarious, because it's totally not based in reality. And the consideration of walking away is the second thing to come to her!

Allen's other song set in a club, "Friday Night," is equally impressive. The backbeat of "Friday Night" sounds like what you'd hear outside a club: that heavy, lub-dub bass thump. In this one, Allen goes out for a night on the town, and nothing goes as planned. The wait's long. She gets hassled by a girl on the guest list. She gets hassled by security.

"Look me
up and down
I don't
make a sound"

Allen's backing vocals correspond to the action described in the song, climbing and descending. You can just picture her standing there: lips tightly pursed, eyes locked forward, seething somewhere deep inside.

So, naturally, when she gets into the club, it's not a fun, carefree experience. One thing after another gets under her skin, and when some girls try to push by her, she pushes back, ready to rumble. In "Knock 'Em Out," the mention of violence was outlandish and played for laughs; here it hints at her volatile emotional state.

That could be due to the suite of songs on Alright, Still referencing a breakup that unleashed a whorl of feelings. Anger is a big one.

"Not Big" disses Mr. Ex, impugning his manhood and chalking up his shortcomings. Though glockenspiel and Allen's sing-song chorus imply only that mischief is afoot, "Not Big" aims to hurt, particularly when she threatens, "Let's see how you feel in a couple of weeks / when I work my way through your mates." Similarly, the reggae-inflected "Smile" harbors a vindictive kernel under its sunny exterior.

"Littlest Things," though, takes Allen back to the good times, long before the breakup. Alas, the memories bring with them a fresh zing of heartache, the wistful strings fleshing that out. "Sometimes I find myself sittin' back and reminiscin'," she confesses, "especially when I have to watch other people kissin'."


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