Lily Allen is the kind of pop star who receives more recognition for her personal life than her music. Which, after 2014’s Sheezus, a commercial bomb Allen has since come to practically disown, wasn’t entirely unfair. Her life is rich with tabloid fodder. The daughter of famous parents, with a predilection for addiction and public breakups, it can be hard to see past the sordid stuff, especially as a musical star dims.
While plenty of lines from No Shame are destined to be Daily Mail headlines, Allen demonstrates a newfound depth she hadn’t exhibited on previous albums. Her biting wit and confrontational style is now aimed at herself. Allen’s heartbreak, a recent divorce and the tension of motherhood versus a career fuel No Shame, a confessional pop album teeming with summer songs.
The centerpiece of the album, “Family Man,” was the song that began the project. Written from the depths of despair, but amped up with rich production, the song was leaked in 2017, hinting at Allen’s new direction. Her remorseful pleading becomes resignation on “Apples.” The last song of the family drama trifecta, “Three,” is a heartbreaking, piano ballad, sung from the perspective of Allen’s young daughters, struggling to understand their mother’s absence.
There is plenty of pathos on No Shame, but Allen still cranks out a handful of funky bangers. “Trigger Bang,” the first single, is a smooth dismissal of past toxic behaviors. A slick pop song, with verses from the London-bred emcee Giggs, “Trigger Bang” is well-matched with the other Afro-influenced tracks on the charts. “Waste” is a bright, dancehall-tinged track, featuring Lady Chann, a fixture of the grime scene. Its sparkly hooks and blunt lyrics (“Who the fuck are you though?” opens the chorus) are reminiscent of “Smile”-era Allen.
Allen stays pretty far away from the electro-trends plaguing much of pop music in 2018. The dizzying drum machine on the opening track “Come On Then” and the haphazard, cloying synths on “Lost My Mind” make for the two weakest songs on No Shame. Autotune does Allen no favors, masking the rich personality in her vocals.
A pop singer who can engage with an air horn as easily as a piano, Allen is still as charming as ever. A trailblazer of snarky, female candor, now commonplace in the Top 40, she dazzles with the deeply personal. But now her honesty is felt more in stark self-assessments than in telling off a guy. Though No Shame derives from the darkest hours of Allen’s life, it’s ripe with the insanely catchy pop hits with cheeky lyrics that remind everyone of what made her a star in the first place.
Notable Tracks: “Three” | “Trigger Bang” | “Waste”