Over the past decade, Lily Allen has proved to be one of the more divisive figures in popular music. For some, she is an irritant: an overly privileged loudmouth who has been accused of being a thug and a fake. However, for others she is a true original: an independent voice who is saying what others are thinking. To quote her own lyrics: “Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say // I’ll go ahead and say them anyway.”
Regardless of your personal feelings towards Lily Allen as an individual, it is important to remember that she is first and foremost a singer-songwriter. Having made her name on MySpace and using that and other social media platforms for self-promotion, Allen burst onto the music scene ten years ago with her debut album, ‘Alright, Still’. Lauded upon release by a host of critics, the album spawned a debut number one single, the catchy yet cutting ‘Smile’, along with moderately successful follow-ups ‘LDN’, ‘Littlest Things’ and ‘Alfie’.
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These four tracks work well with the seven other album tracks to make up an incredibly strong and impressive debut. What is most striking about this album (and indeed her subsequent releases) is her clever lyricism, which is sharp and catchy. Ex-boyfriends fuel much of the fire on this record, but Allen also fires shots bolshy men and women, her younger brother ‘Alfie’, government officials and the media as a whole.
Whilst it is all very tongue-in-cheek, there is a lot of anger lurking beneath these deceptively happy-sounding songs. This is particularly apparent on ‘Everything’s Just Wonderful’ which sees Allen despairing at the state of society and the scrutiny that is placed on certain things, particularly appearance. In one of the most pertinent lyrical runs on the record she laments:
“I wanna be able to eat spaghetti Bolognese,
And not feel bad about it for days, and days, and days.
All the magazines talk about weight loss,
If I buy those jeans I could look like Kate Moss.
I know it’s not the life that I chose,
But I guess it’s just the way that things go.”
It’s clear that much of this work is coming from very real places, very real experiences and is incredibly honest and also very relevant. She keeps most of the album quite upbeat and full throttle, with no punches spared. The closest ‘Alright, Still’ gets to a ballad is ‘Littlest Things’, a softer song that shows a different side to relationships ending, contrasting with the anger of ‘Smile’ and ‘Not Big’. It shows Allen’s softer side, which would feature more on her later albums.
Ultimately, ‘Alright, Still’ was an impressive debut from an artist who clearly wasn’t going to fit a cookie-cutter image of a pop star. She was always going to say what she wanted, regardless of the consequences, which has unsurprisingly courted controversy along the way. Whilst ‘Alright, Still’ was on the whole very brass and abrasive, it showcases what makes Lily Allen such a unique act: honest, pertinent and clever lyricism, with a natural ear for rhythm, catchy choruses and most importantly a versatile voice that backs this up.