Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Old hands, old tricks

music reviews

Singer: Lily Allen
Album: Sheezus

After taking an extended hiatus from music – or “retiring”, as many like to offhandedly call it – and starting a family, singer Lily Allen returns with a new album, her first studio release since 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You. Helmed primarily by producer and co-writer Greg Kurstin, Sheezus (a play on Kanye West’s Yeezus) offers a dozen new tunes, all of which have been co-penned by the singer herself. But just as you would expect based on the quality of its singles (which were “docile pop rubbish” by Lily’s own admittance), the record is a decidedly middling affair. The melodies aren’t as memorable and lyrics aren’t as sharp as you would expect from this talented British songstress.

Controversial lead single ‘Hard Out Here’ criticises the subjugation of women in the entertainment industry, which is well-intentioned and relevant but comes with no subtlety - a problem that resurfaces on the title track ‘Sheezus’. Elsewhere, the content is more personal, as Lily sings about domestic bliss (‘As Long As I Got You’), her privileged upbringing (‘Silver Spoon’), and the heartache of a miscarriage (‘Take My Place’). Tinges of electropop and R&B surface often in these songs, but sadly, nothing really stands out; the content lacks definition, the lyrics end up sounding more defensive than biting, and the tunes aren’t as vibrant as they should be.

It has a few witty moments and offers some enjoyable tracks, but instead of being a fiery comeback with more incisive commentary and infectious pop hooks, Sheezus, Lily Allen’s third album, is also her least impressive. If she really aspires to be the titular “Sheezus”, she’s going to have to come up with something much better than this.

Highlights: ‘Hard Out Here’, ‘As Long As I Got You’
Rating: **1/2


Band: The Fray
Album: Helios

The Fray’s last album, Scars & Stories (2012), faced the same criticism that has often plagued the band: monotony. The foursome from Colorado has gained recognition for their sublime piano-driven pop rock which has sound-tracked many a poignant moment on television. But the group has mostly chosen to play it safe and stick to the sound that has given them success. Listen to their latest single ‘Love Don’t Die’ though and you will instantly know that change is afoot. And just like the song would suggest, their new album Helios does indeed find the band trying to expand their sonic palette and taking a few risks. Whether it’s a step in the right direction or not is mostly a matter of taste.

To make their fourth album, The Fray have teamed up with producer Stuart Price to record 11 songs, with Ryan Tedder joining the team for the aforementioned lead single. The piano has generally been relegated to the background while guitars, drums, and even synthesizers have variously been given more prominence.

Helios is bouncy and energetic, and songs like the disco inspired ‘Give It Away’, the new-wave tinged ‘Closer to Me’, and the U2 evoking ‘Hurricane’ see the group inject various sounds into the mix. The result mostly isn’t as melodic as their previous efforts, and their trademark lush piano balladry is in scant supply here, but Helios does get points for being more diverse, even if it might not necessarily be what their audience wants or expects from them.

Highlights: ‘Love Don’t Die’, ‘Hurricane’, ‘Our Last Day’
Rating: ***

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News - 18th June, 2014 *

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