Lily Allen: Somerset House, London

AT ONE POINT towards the end, bless her, Lily Allen looks like she’s going to cry. She’s been bouncing through her sweet, slightly skanking version of Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’, can of Magners in one hand, a fag in the other, barefoot and buoyant in a puffy white party dress, and has encouraged the crowd to ooh-ooh-aah-aah the ooh-ooh-aah-aah bits.

And because it’s been a good-natured evening in the open air and it’s a classic song that seems to fit the moment perfectly, everyone’s doing it. The almost all-female front row, in the office party mood six months early. The huddles of mums and daughters, the former probably enjoying the evening a little more than they thought they were going to. The suits with wristbands, on a corporate jolly after a hard day fucking up the world for everyone else. The chattering music journalists. Were you a stone-hearted, coke-raddled, husk of a pop star, it’s probably a sound that bounces off you — oh yet more validation, how tiresome. But Lily stands there, bottom lip wobbling a little, filling up with nervous giggles. 

Success suits Lily Allen, in a way you rarely encounter in the pop world. She hasn’t manufactured a larger-than-life performance persona or developed a planet-sized ego after a split second in the spotlight — she just muddles her cheery, slightly bemused way through whatever’s right there in front of her, being funny and honest and unafraid to look a fool, because, really, what’s the worst that can happen? She comes on in fabulous stack ruby heels which she discards after the first song. “That was a fucking stupid idea,” are pretty much her opening words. “Wear shoes that you can’t walk or perform in. And now all you photographers have seen my short little stumpy legs…”

And yet she’s not at all ramshackle or unprofessional — this isn’t, as your Yahoo operative expected, a show that runs entirely on charm. She’s a far stronger singer than imagined, for a start. Ironically, the hits actually suit her voice least, ‘Smile’ and her version of ‘Oh My God’ lurking a little too far towards the bottom of her range for comfort. But she belts through ‘Nan, You’re A Window Shopper’ and ‘Cheryl Tweedy’ note and pitch-perfect, and a show-stopping, blistering performance of ‘Friday Night’, all unstoppable wit and venom, is anything but throwaway. And it’s not all perky, pop reggae either. ‘Everything’s Just Wonderful’ tempers a “fuck you” message (dedicated to George W Bush) with some sly bossanova, and ‘Sunday Morning’ centres around a magnificent, wall-of-noise guitar chord bashed out by Lily (“Next time I’ll know three chords…”).

Most crucially, she has taste. Rather than play the record and slope off after 40 minutes like most debut album upstarts, she brings on Specials guitarist Lynval Golding for spot-on run-throughs of ‘Blank Expression’ and ‘Gangsters’. You need style, wit, and a heart in exactly the right place to be able to tackle songs of this stature — and she pulls it all off with a giggle. Looks like we might just have a proper pop star on our hands. 

© Ian WatsonYahoo! Music, July 2007

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