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Reviewed by David Medsker
Will the fact that she didn’t suffer a precipitous and very public fall from grace work in her favor now that she’s back to promote her second album, It’s Not Me, It’s You? In truth, it’s unlikely to make a difference. This has nothing to do with the quality of the music – though it admittedly does not measure up to her dazzling debut – but more a matter of the American market having little use for anyone who sounds "too British." A terrible, dismissive phrase, that, but a very real one just the same. Indeed, one wonders if that whole "too British" thing was the reason Allen chose American producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin as her songwriting partner and producer this time around. Kurstin’s day job is as one half of the latte popsters the Bird and the Bee (copyright on "latte popsters" patent pending by Jeff Giles, Inc.), but with Allen as his partner, this is more like the Bird and the Wasp, or the Velociraptor and the Bee, depending on whether Kurstin is the bird or the bee.
Allen told the occasional story on Alright, Still about this or that deadbeat boyfriend, but with It’s Not Me, It’s You, she seems intent on wagging her finger at the world, while extending an olive branch here and there (well, once, on "Back to the Start"). Parents are to blame for their kids’ tendency to abuse drugs in "Everyone’s at It," celebrity culture is to blame in "The Fear" (ironic, since she benefits from that culture, albeit on a small scale), and hey, look at that, another boyfriend that’s a lousy lay ("Not Fair.") These songs overcome the familiarity of the subject matter thanks to Kurstin’s super-catchy melodies (especially that last song), but not all are so lucky. Take the song that begins by riffing on a well-known Carpenters song, but is called "Fuck You." ("Fuck you, fuck you very much / ‘Cause we hate what you do, and we hate your whole crew, so please don’t stay in touch.") Likewise "Him," where Allen wonders what God’s preferences and habits are. Think "One of Us," only less subtle. Sounds unbearable, doesn’t it?
And that is one of the problems with It’s Not You, It’s Me. Allen wants to show the world how much she’s grown up and how worldly wise she’s become, but she’s actually revealed the opposite. She was a feisty carouser looking to the level the playing field the first time around. Here, however, she sounds self-absorbed, and on those songs when Kurstin hasn’t written a home run, it’s tempting to tune out. When it comes to making her next album, hopefully she will have learned that while it isn’t her, it’s always about her, either.