I don’t know why I haven’t devoted more time to writing about Lily Allen. The British pop singer-cum-happily married reality TV starlet may seem relatively ordinary nowadays in a playing field that includes Jessie J, Lady GaGa and the one thousand personalities of Nicki Minaj, but when she blasted out of the MySpace revolution during my first year of University, she was as revolutionary as they come. Rather than relying on how she looked (although her gangster kicks, hoop earrings and gold chains certainly sweetened the deal), Allen sought to own the Number One spot with what she sang about. Combining that with the retro swagger that would care of the then-underground producer Mark Ronson and multi-instrumentalist/Bird & Bee writer Greg Kurstin, Allen’s initial public offering Alright, Still, was an audio bomb that just kept on going off. Here was this mouthy girl singing like an angel while telling guys at a bar to get fucked and her landlord that she wouldn’t pay the rent. People immediately started calling her Mike Skinner in a wig, but then they forgot two vital points; Mike Skinner wasn’t particularly attractive and he certainly couldn’t navigate his way around a melody like this firebrand.
Today I received a phone call informing me that my latest escapade to make an ass of myself on tape and bring shame/joy upon my family had been successful and that I was indeed one step closer to my dream of being a VJ for a music channel. With live auditions around the corner, I sat on the bus home thinking about what were some of the coolest musical moments of my life, and then this song came on my iPod. In 2009, Allen was selling out medium sized venues for an entire week in sydney. But three years earlier, I was getting a wristband outside the notoriously filthy Club 77 and seeing a smoking, drinking badass who hadn’t even released a single yet in this country. Lily’s maiden voyage to our shores must have been as weird for her as it was for us; we all knew who she was from our MySpace addictions, but we had no idea whether she could do it live. Turns out she was not only hilarious, but also incredibly talented. I was talking about that show for weeks to a whole lot of people who could not fathom why they should care about some actor’s daughter who’d made a mixtape. Then ‘Smile’ hit and all bets were off.
‘Everything’s Just Wonderful’ exemplifies the style that drew me so close to Allen’s first record, partially informed by the fact that I felt like I’d discovered her – which was completely untrue of course. There’s that really loop keyboard figure that sounds like it’s being cut up in a mix, spliced in with this tropical vocal stabs that bounce off the drums that may as well replace the snares with handclaps because they’re that Motown-y. Within the first three lines, Allen’s brought the fire, but gift-wrapped it in that honey register of hers. Everyone’s going mental, everything’s out of control and that’s express license for being a smartass, something she excelled at. The pre-chorus, with those tight guitar lines and magnificent progression and double-tracked vocals does it for me even more than the real thing. “It’s very funny/’cause I’ve got your fucking money/But I’m never gonna get it/Just because of my bad credit” goes the first, and even more tellingly, the next time around it’s “I wanna be able to eat spaghetti bolognese/And not feel bad about it for days and days and days.” That Allen could be so lethal towards those she disliked (and she certainly made a career out of it) while being charmingly self-deprecating in the same stanza is what continues to excite me about her music. Sonically, she was bringing together disparate sound sources from ska to reggae to British 2-step with Kurstin and friends at almost exactly the same time Diplo was doing it with MIA on the other side of the Atlantic. Though it’s light and breezy, Allen’s music stands up six years after she played it to a teenage me who was totally in love with her from then on because it was ahead of the competition by a long, long way. She may have deadpanned “everything’s just wonderful, I’m having the time of my life,” but in all likelihood this rabblerouser was. I hope she comes back to music. None of these other women have any balls.
Lily Allen – ‘Everything’s Just Wonderful’