CD Review of Alright, Still by Lily Allen

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Alright, Still
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Capitol
Released: 2007
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If there’s any musical commodity that has more corpses strewn across the Atlantic Ocean than Britpop bands who’ve been labeled the Next Big Thing by the NME, it must surely be female pop stars from the UK.

This body count would likely explain why Capitol Records waited six months to release Lily Allen’s debut album, Alright, Still, in the States, as well as why they went out of their way to get her booked as the musical guest on a recent episode of “Saturday Night Live” (that kind of exposure generally insures enough of a buzz to sell a decent number of copies), but will Allen’s music really translate to the masses on our shores? If not, at the very least, it’s certainly destined to result in a massive cult following amongst alt-music fans; not only does she have the most unabashed British-accented singing voice since Billy Bragg first opened his mouth (always a big selling point to Anglophile music geeks), but, damn, it’s catchy.

Comparing Allen to Nellie McKay might be lazy, but it’s not entirely inaccurate; both singers have a tendency to mix musical genres to the point where, after listening to their albums, you’re not readily able to sum up their sound in a single sentence. Some have noted a resemblance between Allen’s semi-spoken-word singing style and that of Mike Skinner of the Streets, but she’s walking a path that’s much closer to that of Suggs, frontman for Madness. Allen’s definitely less about the rap and more about the pop; both “Smile,” “Not Big,” and “LDN” are definitely full of the bouncy, reggae-styled beats that lend themselves to regular dance-floor spins.

In truth, virtually all of Alright, Still will rapidly bring your toes into tapping mode, like “Everything’s Just Wonderful,” which has a swinging ‘60s feel that’d be right at home on the soundtrack to the next “Austin Powers” flick. The jaunty, piano-led “Shame for You” has great layered harmonies during its chorus. Allen’s musical sensibilities are certainly all over the place; “Littlest Things” bears a slight similarity to Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” while “Friday Night” brings to mind Space’s “Neighbourhood” – and, oddly enough, you could just about believe that that’s the Edge playing guitar at the beginning of “Take What You Take.”

Still, it’s that damned Britishness that’s going to be tough to sell Stateside. The oompah of “Alfie” might make it out of the gate despite Allen’s query to her brother if she’d like a cup of tea, mostly because she’s singing about how “my little brother’s up in his bedroom, smoking weed.” “Knock ‘Em Out,” however, is never going to translate to Americans with lyrics like these:

Cut to the pub on a lads’ night out,
Man at the bar, cos it was his shout,
Clocks this bird and she looks okay,
Caught him looking and she walks his way,
"Alright, darlin’, you gonna buy us a drink, then?"
"Err, no, but I was thinking of buying one for your friend..."

Here’s hoping Alright, Then manages to overcome the obstacle that is the closed-minded American mindset, and that Lily Allen conquers America. Frankly, we could do with a bit more sass in the charts…and lord knows Allen’s got an abundance of it.

~Will Harris