It’s difficult to properly classify British vocalist Lily Allen: she seems to inhabit the spaces between genres and her musical tastes transcend most conceivable boundaries.
“I’m just into everything, y’know?” she responds when asked what’s she’s listening to these days. “Everything that’s good — Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, who’s also a genius, and Rufus Wainwright.” Rihanna, T.I., and Common also earn mentions from the rambunctious singer. Somewhere, Burt Bacharach is wondering how he made it onto a list with this “tie” person, and also whether Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends know any good remedies for sciatica.
It’s obvious on Allen’s current album, Alright, Still, comprised of 13 nearly-perfect pop morsels, that she’s having fun. She makes you wish you were cruising around London along with her. Hers is a brand of exuberant, ska-infused pop, with dryly witty lyrics and slang that sounds funny even if your Yankee ass has no idea what it means.
Many of the tunes, like “Alfie” and “Knock ‘Em Out,” have an old-school feel but still manage to sound incredibly current. As a vocalist, her style is casual and subtle, demonstrated in the chorus of “LDN” as she lingers playfully on the notes, holding them for just a moment too long.
Part of her charm lies in her Cockney accent, which she exploits to the fullest. Allen lived all over London growing up, and her accent isn’t Tony Blair English so much as a less proper street-brat English. She drops her “t’s.” One could listen to her say “men’al” and “quar’er” all day. She turns some of her “th’s” into “f’s,” so that “thoughts” and “thinking” become “foughts” and “finking.” The effect is refreshing and cheeky. If you don’t think it’s adorable, you’re soulless, or perhaps you’re Tony Blair, which is kind of the same thing.
Allen’s act isn’t just a bratty novelty, though. She exacts a brutal vengeance on an ex-boyfriend in “Not Big,” exposing the young man’s, um, deficits. This is the wrong girl to cross. “Yeah you really must think you’re great,” she sings. “Well let’s see how you feel in a couple of weeks/When I work my way through your mates.” Yikes.
And then there’s “Nan You’re a Window Shopper,” a hilarious take on 50 Cent’s “Window Shopper.” The song’s about her grandmother, and, not to spoil it for you, but the phrase “colostomy bag” is prominently involved.
Despite canceling a large swath of recently-booked tour dates in the U.S., Allen is definitely playing The Plex on June 1. “We tried to save every show that we could financially, and Charleston was one of the ones that we could do,” she says.
Nashville-based, Oregon-born singer-songwriter Mat Kearney is headlining the show in support of his latest album, Nothing Left to Lose (Aware/Columbia). On the title track, he goes on with this part about “Push the pedal down/Watch the world around,” or something. You’ve heard it. Whatever. What’s important is that Lily Allen is coming to Charleston. “I’m a music lover,” she says. “That’s what I’m here for.”
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