Lily Allen, Shepherd’s Bush, gig review: Controversy can't ruin pop star at her best

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If you were steered solely by the squalls of online opinion, you’d view Lily Allen’s comeback as something of a disaster so far.

From her opening gambit with the satirical video for ‘Hard Out Here’ - dogged by accusations of racism - she’s stumbled from one misunderstanding from another, accused of dismissing feminism and dissing her pop peers.

While some of the controversies were merely the result of misinterpretation (though others, such as her response to a online spat with Azealia Banks, can’t be defended), Allen’s made a poor job of explaining herself, and her willingness to talk down the songs released so far and badmouth her label didn’t improve matters.

Thankfully, she’s on surer ground on a stage than a soapbox these days. Tonight’s intro doesn’t bode well, as a video screen displays two baby bottles slowly revolving to become giant, dribbling breasts, but then ‘Sheezus’ begins.

Rather than the giant bitchfest it’s been portrayed as by critics who don’t listen carefully enough, though, its slow, wry groove finds a weary Allen being forced into the competition we create among female popstars, unwilling, sceptical yet still wanting to win despite herself.

Lily Allen performs on stage at Shepherd's Bush with backing dancers Lily Allen performs on stage at Shepherd's Bush with backing dancers

Twerking dancers accompany ‘Hard Out Here’, which beyond its much-debated video is a crass, hamfisted song. It gets a huge singalong, though, and by the time Allen reaches old favourite ‘Smile’, graced with a junglistic breakdown, she’s got a sold-out, tube-strike braving crowd eating out of her palm, even as she berates them for not showing enough appreciation for her “first big gig in ages”.

And apart from the dire ‘L8 CMMR’, in which a sweet and exuberant chorus can’t lift free of cringey verses about how her husband is “taken, ladies/I got me his babies”, the new songs sound good.

"As Long As I Got You" is a country-poppy, Stones-tinged celebration of domestic fulfilment that sits between Primal Scream’s "Jailbird" and "Footloose". The "Paper Planes"-ish "Our Time" is wistfully charming, even if does rhyme “Kenzo” with “benzos”.

The tone of the new tracks is, for all their witty and complex takes on growing older and changing priorities, fresh, sweet and breezy. "Insincerely Yours" has a smooth Nineties West Coast hip-hop feel, while "URL Badman" takes on craven internet trolls with a fresher, more melancholic hip-hop sound, and "Life For Me" is a vibrant Afro-pop number with sweet hi-life guitar.

Of the oldies, "The Fear" hits truest, like the classic it is, and even "Fuck You", a flashback to the time anyone who was anyone was writing yet another bloody song about George Bush, sparkles, Lily now sporting a giant fake diamond tiara and gold jumpsuit (“my stylist told me to”).

"Not Fair’"closes proceedings with a far less disappointing finish than the unfortunate male skewered in its lyrics, all cowpunked up and stompy.

It remains to be seen whether or not she’ll really ever be "Sheezus", but for now it's good to see that neither her detractors nor the woman herself can ruin pop writing as good as Allen at her best.

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