Sunny Cynic

Lily Allen is the latest and quite possibly the greatest U.K. songstress to have a go in the U.S. in recent years

A bad breakup serves as the bread and butter for many a singer-songwriter. But few take to it with as much glee as Lily Allen, or in such a way that even the most heartbroken of listeners can’t help but smile along with her. Yes, smile. Allen’s ex of a year and a half cheated on her and then left her, but now he’s truly sorry and wants her back.

How do you think she responds?



Cynical girl: Allen
(Photo by Derrick Santini )

”At first, when I see you cry, it makes me smile. Yeah, it makes me smile,” she sings on ”Smile,” a song just as light and poppy as if made for a children’s chorus to sing — with different lyrics, of course. And not just because she talks about her ex ”fucking that girl next door” and causing Allen serious heartache. ”At worst, I feel bad for a while. But then I just smile. I go ahead and smile.”

So Allen’s not exactly a spokesmodel for the principle of forgive and forget. Hers is more about drawing pleasure from pain. And it is certainly preferable to no pleasure at all, the fate that befalls the output of too many brokenhearted singer-songwriters. Allen provides pleasure in spades on her stellar debut album Alright, Still. The album, due stateside next Tuesday, Jan. 30, helped make Allen a sensation in her native England last year. One can only hope for the same here.

For starters, revenge has never sounded so damn fun. Her ex’s plea to try again turns out to be too little, too late for Allen — literally. ”You’re not big, you’re not clever. You’re not a Big Brother. Not big whatsoever,” she sings on ”Not Big,” another fun and frolicking song in which she deflates her ex’s manhood where it hurts most.

”I’m sorry if I’m being kind of mental, but you left me in such a state,” she continues, in her sweet but sassy voice you just can’t help but love. ”Now I’m gonna do to you what you did to me, gonna reciprocate.” She teases out the syllables of that last word in a full-bore taunt that lets you know she means what she’s saying, and she knows exactly what she’s doing.

You can say that again. Allen is the latest and quite possibly the greatest young U.K. songstress to have a go in the U.S. in recent years. From Joss Stone to Natasha Bedingfield to Lady Sovereign, you can hear resemblances to her immediate predecessors (as well as Gwen Stefani and recent Christina Aguilera). You can hear even more clearly the influence of Neneh Cherry as well as the late Kirsty MacColl, who died in a tragic boating accident even before she had a chance to score much success stateside.

Allen effortlessly, even subtly, mixes pop sounds from today and decades ago and beyond, with especially noteworthy traces of big-band jazz and classic R&B. And to think she’s only 21-years-old. It’s music custom-made for a modern-day speak-easy, where pop music connoisseurs would go to hear spunky, sprightly tunes informed by hip hop, reggae and ska but focused on catchy, piano-based melodies and mostly sung vocals. (Allen occasionally raps and rap-sings.) And these are tunes intended to make you have fun or at least smile, despite what you may feel or what Allen may say.


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Allen often alternates between sassy or cynical hip-hop inflected verses and bright and sunny pop-rock choruses. She does this most charmingly on ”Everything’s Just Wonderful.” She despairs about the world in choppy verses that give way to a overly bright chorus and overcompensating lyrics, as inspired by Burt Bacharach and bossa nova.

As fun as her music is, however, the real fun lies in her lyrics, whether she’s exacting amusing revenge or relating amusing encounters. How do you avoid talking to someone who’s attracted to you but the feeling is so not mutual? ”You can’t knock ‘em out, and you can’t walk away,” Allen says on ”Knock ‘Em Out.” The best you can do, she reasons, is pour on the excuses, the more absurd the better. ”Nah, I got to go, my house is on fire,” she says, with a laugh. And then she yells, ”I’ve got herpes! Err, no, I’ve got syphilis!”

”There were people in the city having lunch in the park, I believe that is called alfresco,” she tosses out on ”LDN.” The song doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of her hometown of London, with her talk of crack whores and random muggings and filth. But of course, ”that’s city life,” better to make the most of it, look to the bright side of things. ”Sun is in the sky, why oh why would I want to be anywhere else?”

Why oh why, indeed. Allen’s sunny cynicism is just right for life in a metropolis. And her music just right for life in modern times.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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