Pop singer Lily Allen is lucky that she lives in England, where hype about the latest musical thing spreads faster than a California wildfire. Famous for having launched her career by offering radio-ready songs from her MySpace Web page, the 21-year-old has an advantage over her peers in that she seemed to be in control of her fate from the get-go. For those of us who think that major labels, despite their evil reputation for quashing originality (that means you, too, Jay-Z), are still the best cultivators of teen-oriented music, it wasn’t at all inauspicious that following Allen’s Internet coup, Parlophone/EMI rushed her debut into British record stores faster than you can say “Robbie Williams.”
Allen’s debut album, “Alright, Still” isn’t as sophisticated as the work put out by the artists she’s been compared with (The Specials, St. Etienne), but it’s surprisingly rich for such a lighthearted effort. The incorporation of Latin horns, 1960s lounge as well as ska and calypso rhythms is professionally assured, and Allen’s lyrics are charming and witty — though it’s difficult to believe someone so young has had so many bad boyfriends. Best of all, she’s a vocalist who not only knows her limitations, but knows how to take advantage of them. The naive tone she assumes on “Everything’s Just Wonderful” puts across the song’s theme of callow materialism with a sly wink. And the effortlessly catchy “Not Big” wouldn’t be half as addictive if Allen’s singing wasn’t so blase.
Whatever its original demo-downloadable form, “Alright, Still” rivals Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds” as the year’s most potent singles-oriented album, which automatically makes it one of the year’s best albums. Period.