Thursday, May 21, 2009

Love Letter to a Lily Allen Song

For a singer-songwriter-musician, I don’t buy a lot of CDs. It’s weird, but there it is. When I get hold of one I like, I wear it out, and if there’s a track I take a particular shine to, I’ll put it on repeat in my car’s CD player for days at a stretch. For the last month or so, the album has been Lily Allen’s “It’s Not me, it’s You,” and the track has been “Him.”

It’s a song about God that borrows heavily in concept from Prince’s “One of Us.” It’s also a bit sexy, but that makes sense given that Allen has never been afraid to be anything, least of all sexy whilst singing about God.

Fellow blogger Richard Byrne has convincingly argued that Serge Gainsbourg’s “L’Hotel Particulier” is as perfect as pop sex gets; meanwhile, I don’t think I’ll ever hear a song about God that’s more sensous than this one.

In particular, I’m talking about the instrumental break (at 2:05 in the YouTube track below). It starts with a breathy “ah-ah” vocal – an extended version of the lead-in for the second verse – that’s soon joined by a walking bass line. Then it widens into a fattened-up version of the chorus’ musical bed. The synth violins are still there, only now it’s impossible not to notice that they sound as if they’re being played through a trumpet mute for a pulsing effect. They’re propelled along by driving snare-based drum work and an elegantly simple single-line guitar solo. I crank this section up every time it comes on, because I can’t resist the impulse to take a bath in its warm, thick, loungy vibe.

One of the best things about this album outside of Allen herself is the producer, Greg Kurstin, and one of the best things about him is his egalitarian approach to instrumentation – banjo, accordion, and pedal steel are just a few of the pleasant surprises on these tracks. He’s also skilled at quoting musical styles without parroting them. I’m still working out why “Are You Mine” reminds me of the Beatles, though I suspect it’s the piano and the deft employment of the “rule of three” – repeat something twice, then shift away.

Getting back to “Him,” the verses wander through a series of amusing questions such as whether the big man in the sky would drive without insurance, and speculates about his favorite band. But the chorus is where Allen shows us what she really believes:

Ever since he can remember
People have died in his good name
Long before that September
Long before hijacking planes
He’s lost the will
He can’t decide
He doesn’t know who’s right or wrong
But there’s one thing that he’s sure of
This has been going on too long

Finally. Someone wrote a song about God that I can not only believe in, but feel the truth of in my bones. It’s about time. Thank you, Lily Allen.


  1. GREAT song. Thanks for posting.

  2. This is more of an observation, on her part, in human behavior.

  3. Oh my God. I listened to it maybe 6 times and I couldn't get rid of the goose flesh. What a lovely post/song.

    I had to forward this blog post to all my friends (12 in total). Thank you, thank you!


  4. Thanks, all, for commenting. I agree, the song has much to do with human behavior, but isn't that true of most things that have to do with supreme beings?

    Meanwhile, my mom is contemplating buying the CD because of this post -- how about that?


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