‘No Shame’ is Lily Allen’s most raw, minimal and personal album yet. There have always been personal notes scattered throughout the social criticism, vulgarity and pop star relationship struggles, however as yet on no album has she reflected on herself so deeply throughout the track list. Her 2014 album ‘Sheezus’ began developing the concept, with achingly personal tracks like ‘Take My Place’ and ‘As Long As I Got You’, however she hadn’t quite let go of her harsh tongue and most of the album is still dominated by attitude (Need I reiterate the title?); not until the end of the album you have ‘Hard Out Here’ and ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, which hint heavily at topics and sounds explored much more comprehensively in ‘No Shame’.
First up with ‘Come On Then’, which sounds a little like a throwback to her debut, lyrically sets the tone for where she is in her career, and some of the ideas explored later on; again a concept addressed in ‘Sheezus’ with ‘Life For Me’, however its much more fleshed out here. After her self proclaimed mid 20s midlife crisis, in some way nearly taking on the legacy of Amy Winehouse, shes back to address her tabloid reputation and assert herself. Next up is the big single ‘Trigger Bang’, the theme is continued as she breaks down how celebrity culture can too easily get the best of you, and her relatively recent realization that maybe she was never cut out for it to begin with, perhaps the reason why substance abuse became such a problem.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really been an addict though, to be honest. I think I’m a raging co-dependent and then when I feel like I can’t cope, I abuse alcohol and drugs to plaster over some stuff, but I’ve never been somebody that craves a fix.” – Lily Allen for STEREOGUM
From this point comes the real sensitivity, several songs delve mostly into her recent divorce, written from a variety of different stages of the relationship falling apart and from different perspectives. Similarly, the very curious track ‘Three’ express her guilt at not always being there for her children, impressively creative and expressive, it is written from their perspective. This territory of the album comes with a very new sound for Allen, the stripped back ballad; in parts her voice is nearly unrecognizable in what is pretty easily the best vocal performance of her career, the delicate sound complimenting her newfound sensitivity perfectly.
“Yeah. I wanted to write a record for me that felt truthful and honest, but also, I don’t wanna disappoint any people that supported me through the years. I’m self-aware enough to know that what people like about my writing is the directness and the honesty, but I think the difference between this album and previous records is that that honesty has usually been observations of other people and looking outwards. This time it was about turning the observation in on myself. There’s nothing really that profound in that, I think that’s just growing up, realizing I’m actually a person in the world who has to be doing some shit.” – Lily Allen for STEREOGUM
I guess she couldn’t help herself to include at least a couple of tracks airing out some more generic celebrity relationship struggles, the 2nd and 3rd last of the album touch upon familiar territory, a friendship ruined by greed and a tongue in cheek recount of trying to find the perfect partner; ‘Waste’ is even reggae inspired and has a feature that would fit in on her debut album. Still, paired with the first two tracks they don’t really seem out of place, nearly book-ending the album with very conscious reference to her earliest work.
The last track makes a great conclusion, a bit of a re-hash of tracks ’22’ and ‘Hard Out Here’ from previous albums, she has finally nailed a concept that has clearly been working on for nearly 10 years. Rather more eloquent than her previous efforts, here she recounts some of her struggles as a woman in the music industry, and serves a reminder that women have every right to success as men. Maybe not pop in the purest form, this is very different from the usual Lily Allen experience, as addressed she was even wary of disappointing supporters with this sometimes harsh change of direction.
Usually by this stage I would have sought out a negative aspect to at least mention, however I find the album as a whole honestly quite hard to fault. The subtler side is much more impressive, and I would love a whole album of ballads from Lily, but I can’t deny enjoying the more typical bangers presented too. With a lot more to offer than usual, this album will be very relistenable, and perhaps in a few different playlists to the rest of the discography. Having broken away from frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin, and now self managing, its clear how this new creative space allowed for more experimentation and produced such a different sounding record. I have a lot of optimism that this is merely the starting point for the rest of Lily Allen’s career, and from here there will be more freedom to create much more interesting, engaging music.
“And I think that because things really got to a low point with the last record, it was like, Do you want to do this? Is this what you’re meant to do? If this is what you’re meant to do, then you have to do it, and you have to do it on your own.” – Lily Allen for STEREOGUM