It's Not Me It's You
By Christopher Alexander | 13 February 2009
It’s a fine line between candor and laziness. Lily Allen’s first record, Alright, Still (2006) was effortless: parchment thin lyricism about her ex fucking the girl next door “so what d’ya do that for?” fit her easy, heavily accented tenor perfectly. The words may as well have been said, and they were funny. It was a great record, but It’s Not Me It’s You isn’t, even though Allen’s casual ruminations on parties, drugs, promiscuity and the high life are again front and center. Parties last all night, characters finagle anti-depressants even while they’re on coke, hypocrites and sycophants surround her—and that’s only the first song, “Everyone’s At It.” She couldn’t sound more bored.
Lead off single “The Fear” either captures a certain celebrity anxiety about obsolescence or is an attempt at self-mocking consumer culture (the titular fear being, I guess, a failure to keep up with the Joneses), but a line like “I’m packing plastic / and that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic” goes over about as well as a racist joke at an English Department party. There are songs about one night stands, boyfriends climaxing before she does, other boyfriends who get hung up when she wants a post-relationship booty call, her dad, George W. Bush, and the almighty being a right wanker and a John Fogerty fan to boot. The f word abounds, and so does her double tracked voice. This should all sound familiar, and it is; but while a joke loses both its novelty and its charm through incessant repetition, It’s Not Me It’s You is neither grating or annoying. It’s merely boring.
It’s a fair point, as others have mentioned, that perhaps Alright, Still wouldn’t have been so winning if it came after Allen’s public misadventures in dipsomania. A lot of the discussion of this album seems to be shaped through that lens, and while it’s a lousy way to digest a record (great, so she and my grandmother have something in common, who cares?), I have to agree that her exploits are much more interesting than any of the songs on this record. Case in point: in the Spin cover story she discusses her father’s young child, and admitted feelings of jealousy. It was an unguarded and telling moment, much more poignant than “He Wasn’t There,” the final song on It’s Not Me. Perhaps if the interview had a faux vaudevillian backbeat I would hate that, too.
But I don’t think that’s why the album fails. I think most of the blame should fall on the Bird and the Bee guy. The songs on Alright, Still were entertaining, brisk walks through updated second-wave ska and modern LDN club culture. This record opens with two ponderous, minor key numbers and never recovers. The ballads— “Chinese,” “I Could Say”—are far too laborious, never allowing her smirk to shine through. All that said, most of the songs here are very well constructed, and in the places where Allen’s personality can come out, it excels. “Not Fair” is a silly, catchy number about the curse of the male orgasm; “Never Gonna Happen” is a supremely funny bitch card about intentionally mixed signals, made the more hilarious for her poker-faced delivery (“I know it’s confusing / it could be considered using”). And while “Him” is no match for Randy Newman’s “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind),” I’m sure Newman would make hay with a line like “I don’t think he’s ever been suicidal / his favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival.” They’re fleeting moments, though, and they do little to revive such a drowsy album.