Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dirty Pretty Thing

Lily Allen, Alright, Still, Regal/Parlophone (EMI)

Riding through the city on my bike all day
Cause the filth took away my license
It doesn't get me down and I feel ok
Cause the sights that I'm seeing are priceless

Everything seems to look as it should
But I wonder what goes on behind doors
A fella looking dapper, but he's sittin with a slapper
Then I see it's a pimp and his crack whore.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

There are records I just can't stop playing. St. Elsewhere was like that. It got so ridiculous after awhile that I had to put the CD away before I made myself sick of it. It's like eating something you love over and over again. Next thing you know, you never wanna see that dish again. A pleasure...destroyed. So, to make sure I never tire of Alright, Still, I'm gonna have to remove the disc from my sight at some point. For now, I can't get enough. If I wanted to get reductionist about it--and why the heck not--Ms. Allen's debut is like the perfect combination between Madness and Lady Sovereign. In other words, it couldn't be more British.

The 21-year-old has the attitude and lyrical sensibility of the Streets and the Arctic Monkeys and the dance-pop smarts of Annie. Now Annie is Norwegian--not British--but Allen has the same kind of sweet, but not childish voice. That said, Annie would never sing lyrics as explicit as those on Alright, Still. The voice may be pretty, the tunes bouncy, but Allen doesn't mince words. Not that Annie's doing any mincing either, but she's certainly coming from a more peaceful place. If Allen's music didn't sound so deceptively upbeat, it'd all be a bit of a bummer.

And it's that very dichotomy that keeps me coming back. Is it a gimmick? I dunno. The next record will help me decide. The fact that Allen has such a crafty sense of humor about all this doom and gloom--she's a comedian's daughter, after all--certainly bodes well for her future. Same goes for St. Elsewhere, one of the year's other more notable debuts. The lyrics are a lot darker than you might think. Ubiquitous hit "Crazy," for instance, isn't about being crazy in love, it's about being crazy. The words are like a "Howl" for the hip-hop era. Danger and Cee-Lo may have found a melodic way to tackle the subject, but tackle it they have.

On Alright, Still, Allen is, essentially, singing about Tony Blair's second term (except for that Iraq part). Britain was feeling optimistic when he took office. It was a new day in the UK and all that. Now, it's all gone to hell in a handbasket. Things are no better than when Thatcher or Thatcher Lite (John Major) were in office. Everything was supposed to change when Labor found its way to 10 Downing Street. If only he'd quit while he was ahead. I digress...but records like Alright, Still and Everything People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and movies like Dirty Pretty Things and Bullet Boy speak to a firm sense of disillusionment.

I enjoy a little escapism from time to time, but I've got the need for some social consciousness, too (hello, Robert Nesta Marley!). The thing I like best about Alright, Still is that it manages to satisfy both desires at once. Does Allen really know what life is like amongst London's lower classes? All evidence points to the contrary. Maybe she made it all up--the crack whores, the victimized old ladies, etc.--but she's convinced me she witnessed these things. That they really happened. And she's wrapped her dark tales of woe in some of the year's most irresistible grooves. Sampled artists include Jackie Mittoo, Sir Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Earl King, and the Isley Brothers. Whether you need this record or not is for you to decide. In a more general sense, however, it's necessary, it's timely--and damn if it isn't fun.

There was a little old lady, who was walkin down the road
She was struggling with bags from Tesco
There were people from the city havin lunch in the park
I believe it's called al fresco
When a kid came along to offer a hand

But before she had time to accept it
Hits her over over the head, doesn't care if she's dead
Cause he's got all her jewelry and wallet.

When you look with your eyes
Everything seems nice
But if you look twice
You can see it's all lies.

Endnote: All lyrics from "LDN." For more information, please visit Allen at MySpace or her official website. According to the bio, Allen's favorite artists include the Specials, Rip Rig & Panic, T-Rex, the Slits, Blondie, Wreckless Eric, Kate Bush, Prince, and Eminem. With the exception of the Arctic Monkeys' Mercury Prize-winning debut, each of the records I mentioned features one track I can't get into as much as the others. On Anniemal, it's "Heartbeat," on St. Elsewhere, it's "The Boogie Monster," and on Alright, Still, it's "Friend of Mine." Images from SquirrelFood.

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