“We wanted him. And we wanted him now. We wanted our savior…We needed a new leader, and after one verse and a video, we crowned Lupe.”
~ Wes Jack, “Make Sure Your Game is Tight”
In Wes Jack’s cautionary critique of the fiasco se llama Lupe, he reminded readers how to turn a good artist bad. In a seemingly self-destructive and counter-productive game of chicken, he illustrated how consumer demand collided headfirst with the up-and-coming rapper’s artistic development. Both sides were too naive to temper expectations and too impatient to slow down, leaving a confused pile of broken hopes and shattered potential. To take his assessment a step further, perhaps this damage potential also drove the conflict. If the outcome didn’t swing between extremes of superstardom and irrelevance, would people pay attention? Audiences can’t live without their MTV because one minute DJ God spins Paris, the next Paris is the spitting image of H.A.M. Stakes is high not just because we make ’em; we want ’em.
So, Lily Allen’s quick ascent in the blogosphere is really a figment of our own preoccupation. Hate her or love her, music aficionados have simply found their latest playmate. As relatively insignificant as an on-air gaff or as meaningless as a passing insult can be in the real world, all eyes must be on her in pop culture. And, unlike Lupe the reluctant, Lily is heeding the call with open arms.
On Alright, Still, Allen’s hardly awaited debut album, the diva-in-waiting delivers all the pop her soon-to-be fans want. A mixture of hipster sentiments — digger-lite nuggets, like a John Holt loop; adolescent nostalgia, such as the first and second wave ska that came back in fashion over ten years ago; and universal pop nods, notably the “Sexy Sadie” that swings through “Littlest Things” — the album is a perfect concoction of cool kid’s crack. It’s so thorough yet superficial and so dense yet digestible, it is the perfect alternative: not this year’s cosmo, but a caipirinxha; not this year’s 24, but Lost; not this year’s Gwen Stefani, but Annie.
Which is peculiar, because the music itself is hardly spectacular. The melodies are lethargic, the samples are simple, and the engineering is functional. The material follows a predictable singles (“Smile,” “LDN,” “Knock ‘Em Out”), album material (“Everything’s Just Wonderful,” “Not Big,” “Friday Night,” “Friend of Mine,” “Alfie”), and filler (“Shame For You,” “Littlest Things,” “Take What You Take,” “That’s the Way It Goes”) pattern. Granted, the production comes with a few bells and whistles that add a touch of sophistication; for example, the transition from the aforementioned John Holt sample to the band’s interpolation on “Friend of Mine” is pure cinema, a shift from a past impression or thought to the snap-back of reality — or simply elevator music. However, the music deliberately sits somewhere between glossy and unobtrusive. It shimmers enough to mask Allen’s tepid singing voice but remains far enough away to allow her largest asset — her snappy personality — to take charge. Her eye for detail (“A fella lookin’ dapper but he’s sittin’ with a slapper then I see it’s a pimp and his crack whore”) and her effortless vitriol (“You’re rubbish in bed and small in the game”) glue these disparate elements together and lead the charge of Alright, Still.
So, is it the pop album of 2006 thus far? By process of elimination, yes. Allen is the only one to answer these immediate questions (and with such enthusiasm): What do we want? (Pop!) How do we want it? (Alright, Still!) When do we want it? (Now!) As half-assed as this may seem, worry not: the new year is right around the corner and we can start the game all over again.