LILY ALLEN — ‘No Shame’
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter Lily Allen gets
serious on her fourth.
THE BAD: Plenty.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Allen’s first two albums (“Alright Still” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You”) were built upon brilliant, infectious doses of indie pop — upbeat tunes grounded in electro, reggae and dancehall, and lyrics brimming with a cheeky wit and English references galore. Then came 2014’s “Sheezus.” Perhaps that record wasn’t a direct bid for the American mainstream, but it sure sounded like one.
I was hoping Allen would get back to her bubbly roots on “No Shame.” Oh well, maybe next time. Despite the lyrics being emotionally charged and deeply personal, this set lacks any kind of musical spark. Maybe she’s maturing. Maybe she wants to be Adele. Who knows? “No Shame” contains both far too many ballads and a detrimental lack of rich, driving rhythms. Even the upbeat stuff falls flat. This is the first time Allen has given us a record that’s DULL.
BUY IT?: Skip it. You won’t be missing much.
NEKO CASE — ‘Hell On’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter (and sometimes New Pornographer) Neko Case paints broad strokes on her seventh.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John and featuring a myriad of guests (Mark Lanegan, Eric Bachmann, K.D. Lang), “Hell On” is a lush, multi-colored, genre-smashing work that finds beauty amidst the chaos.
Despite all the collaborators, this is Case’s show. Her always stunning vocals remain the focus, with those golden tones tackling everything from the usual bits of alt-country to progressive rock with all of its quirky chord progressions and tempo changes. “Hell On” is easily the woman’s biggest album to date. Somehow though, Case manages to keep a sense of both urgency and intimacy intact. What we’ve always loved is still here, only in more multifaceted settings.
Whether it’s the dark, girl-group pop of “Bad Luck”; the ragged, back-and-forth running throughout “Sleep All Summer”; or the majestic complexities decorating “Pitch or Honey,” Case sounds inspired again and again.
BUY IT?: Yes.
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE — ‘High as Hope’
THE GOOD: British indie outfit FATM give us a stripped-down fourth.
THE BAD: Meh…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Even if it’s SUPPOSED to be more intimate and personal, a FATM album should be more exciting than this. Far too much of “High as Hope” is doused in a routine “sameness.” Florence Welch’s vocals are as captivating as ever. The woman knows how to make a melody soar above the clouds in a flash of blinding white light; she’s truly a commanding presence. None of the songs are BAD, yet their settings lack any sort of flash. The rhythmic quirks, bold arrangements and left-of-center darker bits that made past releases not-so-routine are sadly lacking.
Welch and company collaborated with producer Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, Bruno Mars, Eminem), so maybe all those lush pianos, choirs and orchestrations were his doing. Not sure. In the end, expect some exceptional songs (as usual) but a lackluster delivery. Here’s hoping the next one is far more adventurous.
BUY IT?: Your call.