Shame is an odd concept, isn’t it? Right from the notion of Original Sin, it’s one of those feelings that seems to be amplified by the people around us, from people pointing fingers rather than something that’s inherently within us.
Lily Allen is no stranger to being shamed, from before the days it was fair to call it out. Even under a social media microscope, living your 20s under surveillance can be a strain for most of us. For the macrocosm of national press, it’s quite remarkable to see Lily Allen not only surviving it, but taking full ownership with new album No Shame.
And look, for the record – we didn’t actually mind Sheezus. Though Allen herself is remarking about the difficulty she faced before, during, and after that campaign, musically it really isn’t as bad as people seem to remember. It’s also unmistakably a Lily Allen album – after all, who to this day has managed to crystallise the online environment like URL Badman? – and even if her light behind it dimmed somewhat, her personality and her words always shine through in a way few other pop stars can manage.
No Shame feels like an assessment of Lily Allen gone by, including Sheezus, but also the remarkable new side she showed off with both Trigger Bang and last year’s Rufus Wainwright cover. It’s also a reminder that there’s an entire generation who are growing up with Lily, who are experiencing the same things she is – politically, emotionally – at the same time, and who she happens to be giving the most relatable voice to. Even if the goading of opener Come On Then takes in the reaction to her as a celebrity, you only need a casual look at social media to know how many people will keenly feel the line “then why am I so lonely, ‘cos nobody fucking phones me”.
That sort of incisive writing is exactly what makes No Shame a success, the lines that linger on long after the record fades. Allen has spoken to enough outlets about the themes and incidents that inspired this record for us not to delve too deep into it, but there’s something to remember in almost every song. Cake talks about getting ‘a piece of that patriarchy pie’, Pushing Up Daisies references both the NHS and the Daily Mail, while Waste somehow bounces along a chorus of “who the fuck are you though?”. It’s hard to imagine any other contemporary act venturing this way, let alone pulling it off.
Musically, it’s certainly her most impressive. Allen’s voice sounds fresher than ever, and her words come alive thanks to some canny decisions about who to collaborate with. Not least of these is Fryars, who builds on his excellent work with Rae Morris and provides some breathtaking production on Trigger Bang, the lump-in-throat Three, and the piano-driven beauty of Everything To Feel Something. And while mainstream names do turn up in the form of Mark Ronson, Ezra Koenig, and BloodPop, a song like My One still can’t measure up to one like Higher, which is arguably one of the best in her career.
Of course it should be noted that this about No Shame, rather than being shameless. The latter is what Lily Allen relentlessly calls out on social media and through her words on this searing record, those who feel like they have ownership over other people rather than their own actions. But for Allen, pandering and acceptance with that crowd matters little now.
There was a Hollywood blockbuster a while back that coined a very appropriate line: it’s only when you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Lily Allen is not only freer than she’s ever been, she’s soaring like never before. Given the inevitable passage of time and (hopefully) the eventual disappearance of these socio-political shackles, No Shame will no doubt one day be viewed as the genesis of a new artist altogether: one who’s carved out a certain freedom, one who can lay down an honest art on her own terms, and – most importantly – one who is finally liberated from having to give a single fuck.