On her fascinating fourth LP No Shame, Lily Allen explores her life as a woman who did her best Peter Pan impression and then realized she did want to grow up. She sings frankly about her drug and alcohol abuse, her depression after childbirth, her struggle to balance being the mother to two small children and an artist, her hunger to be creative and successful, and about feeling exploited and marginalized in music. It’s a return to the ultra-personal, straight-talking style that made her such an irresistible force on her debut album, Alright, Still. She maintains the sass of the barely 20-something Allen of 2006, but the newly 30-something Allen has the gravitas of someone who has lived a bit of life, knows herself, and is trying to overcome her weaknesses.
These are all things we want to hear about from Allen, because she is at her most endearing when she is being herself; be that a bolstering bruiser who is too much on the album’s opener “Come On Then” or vulnerable and nearly whispering into the mic as if it’s a confession, as on “Apples.” This kind of unfiltered authenticity was missing from 2014’s Sheezus, an ill-advised album where she played the role of a pop monster after apparently watching Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” video one too many times. Instead of giving us herself, she gave us what she thought we wanted.
There are parallels to Madonna’s Ray of Light in No Shame: both in the thematic reflections on motherhood and personal evolution that these defiant women share. After her album, Madge went back to chasing some idea of what the youths wanted, forever chasing a spot on TRL and the pop charts. Luckily for Allen, she’s already done it out of order and had her pop breakdown before she discovered the path she’d rather be on and that she doesn't give a fuck about being on trend. Her new act plays like John Lennon’s post-Beatles material: full of love for parenthood, empathy, and self-possessed as fuck. “Family Man,” which deals with her divorce, and “Everything to Feel Something,” which details her breakdown during Sheezus along with the bad personal choices she made during that period, especially ring true to the brutally self-aware and incredibly beautiful music Lennon explored as he matured. It’s sad and it’s real; hopefully the music industry has learned by now to let Allen be herself.