A gut-wrenching peak into a period of chaos and heartache, No Shame is the latest of Lily Allen’s raw and honest triumphs.
Lily Allen would be the first to admit that her previous album Sheezus wasn’t great. In an attempt to break into a new market, she found herself catering her sound to certain specifications. It couldn’t and wouldn’t sell, because it wasn’t Lily Allen.
No Shame, however, is the real. Baggage and all, cleverly diffused by simple gritty hooks and twinkling chords. Fusing fun dancehall vibes with stirring commentaries on personal history, popular culture, The Daily Mail, and sex positivity - Allen has created what seems more of a tell-all memoir than an album. Tender moments are spritzed with simple guitar riffs, while heavier lyrics are bolstered by clear-cut drums and anthemic pianos.
‘Your Choice (feat. Burna Boy)’ is an outwardly upbeat track, channelling a tropical dancehall vibe that skilfully disguises a final resignation to the reality of the breakdown of Allen’s marriage with Sam Cooper and their ensuing split: “Not gonna lie but this might be dying / Surprised ‘cause I thought you were alright”. ‘Apples’ roots around in the boxes of Lily Allen’s parents’ divorce, drawing comparisons between their experience and the decline of her own marriage. It’s a track tinged with adolescent sadness, wistful nostalgia and heart wrenching honesty. Sitting comfortably at a sweet falsetto, Allen is accompanied by a simple stabbing keyboard.
At the album’s most glamorous, ‘Family Man’ feels perfectly at home performed in a dusky, deep-red cladded club; Lily Allen adorned in rich silk under a single spotlight; martini carefully balanced on a rickety stool. A dramatic piano ballad, ‘Family Man’ is cushioned with guilt, selfishness, and longing (“Baby don’t leave me / I’m just doing what I can”) and shines a sequin-reflected light on some of her darkest concerns.
Drawing on her self-doubt as a mother, ‘Three’ is written from the perspective of her young daughters. The track is a harrowing portrayal of a child’s bitterness towards a half-present mother and exposes the buried lie of a working woman who can have it all. A touching moment for feminine solidarity, Allen triumphs in her commentary.
No Shame has a significantly heart breaking mid-section, culminating in ‘Everything to Feel Something’ where she describes the perpetual cycle of chronic depression. “My heart aches, my heart aches, my heart aches” she warbles from the underworld, as she tries to force herself to feel something, anything, again. Her exasperated sobs are hard hitting, and slowly simmer into a ghostly numbness.
In a mildly confusing turn, the two closing tracks ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ and ‘Cake’ flip the tone of the album quicker than an Olympic gymnast. Much closer to the tempo of It’s Not Me, It’s You, ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ floats sweetly with gentle chimes and birdsong, while still finding space to snag a dig at the media: “If I’m Daily Mail reading know what’s best / Swanning ‘round here in my slippers and dressing gown / Hope you’d give me a dressing down”. ‘Cake’, the album closer, is a balmy R&B number that flows like a fresh breeze through a stiflingly humid room. Allen chirps and chimes, urging us all to grab a piece of that “patriarchy pie”.
Lily Allen has in no way produced a Taylor Swift-esque break-up album, nor has she slipped into martyring herself. Instead, she deals with the collapse of her marriage and the journey to begin trusting herself again with a certain aloofness. Looking in from the outside, she is able to revisit those feelings of denial, self-deprecation, heartbreak, and regret, with a clear perspective. Nowhere does she come up trumps, but instead is the subject of most of the album’s anguish. While it may become tiresome to experience a divorce first-hand through No Shame, the music itself saves the day. Soothing R&B tones, twinkling arpeggios and poppy hooks provide plenty of memorable tunes.