“Don’t need to shake my arse for you, cos I got a brain,” proclaimed Lily Allen last year on Hard Out Here, the comeback single proper of a music career which appeared to have stalled following 2010’s second album It’s Not Me, It’s You, as its proprietor considered a career in acting, opened a clothing store and became a mother twice.
Yet even after all of this she’s only 28, and her album-length return fizzes with youthful verve and energy, even as it reflects her new situation as a married Cotswolds mum.
The title track is a hesitant return based around punchy beats and a cut-up sample of her own vocal, betraying her own nervousness (“not gonna lie… I’m kinda scared”) even as it pays tribute to Kanye West’s similarly self-regarding Yeezus and ponders her own menstrual cycle (“periods / we all get periods / every month, girl”). Despite the fact of Sheezus’ Hard Out Here-inspired touting as a possible feminist masterpiece, though, much of its early stages are taken up with a flimsy kind of pop whose contemporary edge is vigorously emphasised, through the autotuned paean to a great lover L8 CMMR, bubblegum MIA analogue Air Balloon and the Atomic Kitten-sounding Our Time.
Yet it’s a rare record which is broad enough in scope to keep its powder dry for its later stages, and catty, soulful slow jam Insincerely Yours heralds a sea change in Sheezus’ tone.
This isn’t a flawless album from start to finish, but there are some wonderful slices of pure pop here – the urgent, irresistible hoedown As Long As I Got You, or her John Lewis Christmas ad-soundtracking cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know – as well as some boldly confessional passages, not least Silver Spoon’s declaration that “I went to posh school, why would I deny it... the house I grew up in, it was Georgian”. Her voice may occasionally lose its clarity, but it’s still one of UK pop’s loudest and most distinctive.
Download: Insincerely Yours, As Long As I Got You