The Bird and the Bee are "back." I use that phrase lightly because, really, the duo's been releasing EPs for what feels like forever. I saw TBATB open for Rilo Kiley last November at Stubb's, before I even knew a single song. Of course, like anyone who hears Inara' soft, milky voice over the sweet tinklings and sixties-inspired musical distortions of "F*****g Boyfriend" or "Polite Dance Song," I fell in love immediately. (Come on, she blew bubbles to "I'm A Broken Heart"--blew bubbles!)
"Love Letter to Japan" is the most radio-friendly work the group has ever released, and I'm thinking it will be pay off in dividends for the hipster crowd. It's kind of rambunctious, the kind of pop that swings from 0-to-60 in less than five seconds, but Inara works her creepy doll-meets-sex shop owner vocals to the hilt here, carving out a place I think belongs in pop radio. It's no "Womanizer," though, and when songs as produced as "Single Ladies" sit atop the charts its hard for something less overworked to break through. Maybe Apple will choose "Love Letter" as the next theme for an iPod ad or something. That worked for CSS. And Yael Naim. And The Ting Tings...
I adore Lily Allen. She's unforgiving, brutally honest, and can't keep her mouth shut. Hundreds of musical artists share these characteristics; Allen's different because she can back it up.
I'll admit I was never a fan of "Smile," her ubiquitous first single and (if the U.S. it to believed) only worthy track on Alright, Still. Other tracks blew my mind with their unique styling, a blend of hip-hop, reggae and standard Britpop. The strongest of her first LP, "Knock 'Em Out," was a brightly-produced pop number with a darkly humorous tint, and "Everything's Just Wonderful" proved Allen could handle beat-heavy production and stay on top with smart lyrics and a voice that never stretches itself beyond it's own 1950s, radio-hall quality.
"The Fear," her newest single culled from the upcoming It's Not Me, It's You, is exactly what an Allen fan wanted out of her new material. It's essentially a mature version of "Everything," with an overeager synthesized drumbeat and the same tongue-in-cheek rhyming of olde.
There's something different here, though, and it's not just the relaxed production. Allen sounds vulnerable. Sad, even. Allen's certainly endured a few tragedies over the past months, what with a miscarriage, a broken off engagement, pressure from her label to be more like her stateside unequivalent Katy Perry, and all the crap Perez Hilton throws at her on a daily basis. Allen's an ideal model for fame, however. She's fully self-aware of what fame is and how it can affect a new star. She's no Amy Winehouse.
And Amy Winehouse is no Lily Allen.