Lily Allen | photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com
Pictures of Lily (Allen) at Union Transfer
Lily Allen always included a similarly and funny strain in her music, not dissimilar from her father, caustic British comic writer-actor Keith Allen (The Young Ones, The Supergrass, Comic Strip). Yet, because Americans don’t get that snide, sly humor in song is an actual thing unless it’s outlandish, Lily Allen has remained something of a (fabulous) cult figure in the U.S., debuting in 2006 with Alright, Still, and following it with 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You and 2014’s Sheezus. The warm-voiced Allen’s new album, No Shame, should change those fortunes (if she cares) as it invests itself in the nuances of social media takeovers, single motherhood, and a past — even a present — that wasn’t as comedic as we were lead to believe.
“Yeah, I’m a bad mother / I’m a bad wife / You saw it on the socials / You read it online,” sang Allen in her cool, snide fluttering baritone during “Come On Then,” her first song on Tuesday night at Union Transfer, where she played to a fairly packed house. Armed for bear, dressed in pink blooming pants and a long platinum white wig, Allen cut a cocksure jib, as she strode the stage, hands in her big pockets and romping through the spare, atmospheric electro-pop-or-hop of ether the bibbity-bobbity dancehall of “It’s Not Fair” (a catty tune you could imagine Beyonce covering) or the carnal carnival-esque “LDN”, with its leering lyrics of “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.”
Joined by two solid musicians switching back and forth on various keyboards, basses, guitars and programmed drum machines, Allen’s syn-backing tracks were bold and alive – even inventive – especially on her percolating, detuned reggae,smash, “Smile,” (such a sarcastic hit) and her equally caustic encore cuts, the emotionally aggressive “Trigger Bang,” and “Fuck You.”
The only problem came with the fact that, from the new song — “Knock ‘Em Out,” with its complex broken rhythm and cool Allen rap-sing-speak — to the sparse, thudding “Party Line” and even into Lily’s icily sinister take on Lykke Li’s “deep end,” much of her set began to feel and sound the same; great as a signature, but lazy; a lull.
What is worth repeating, though, is how frigging engaging Allen was, even when the arrangements grew a tad listless. Whether riffing about her man “fucking the girl next door” on “Smile,” or the confusion of seduction that was “Who’d Have Known,” Allen’s playfully catty, but always composed British voice — her flow –- is a world’s eighth wonder. And who else but Allen could cut a man down to size on “Not Fair” with:
“You know I’ve never met a man who’s made me feel quite so secure
He’s not like all them other boys, they’re all so dumb and immature
There’s just one thing that’s getting in the way
When we go up to bed, you’re just no good, it’s such a shame
I look into your eyes, I want to get to know you
And then you make this noise and it’s apparent it’s all over”