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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Leaves 'em wanting more

English hip-hop singer Lily Allen is hot, but some fans have been too after her short sets.

October 16, 2006|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

England's latest sensation met a club packed with L.A. fans on Saturday and had no trouble winning them over. If Lily Allen aims to grow her audience, though, she'll have to invest a bit more in her performances.

The 21-year-old singer-rapper owned up to her apparent shortcomings in typically effervescent fashion, telling the audience at the Troubadour that she'd "got in trouble" in New York and San Francisco -- the previous two stops on her four-city introductory U.S. tour -- because her shows weren't long enough.

Seeming more amused by the ruckus than deeply apologetic, Allen said that she'd added a song to her list, and in the end the Troubadour show had clocked in at close to 45 minutes.

That's still a little skimpy by conventional pop standards, and the lean makeup of Allen's band -- three horn players, a bassist and a keyboardist -- added to the cut-rate impression.

For Allen, though, this all comes naturally, the way things are done in the club and hip-hop world that's her habitat.

She swept to celebrity status in England this year as a MySpace-savvy self-starter whose songs and blog entries sparked attention before any records were formally released. When her first single, "Smile," came out, it went to No. 1, introducing an artist with a flair for buoyant, catchy pop and plenty of attitude (the smile of the title is inspired by an ex-boyfriend's misery).

Her debut album, which arrives in the U.S. in January, is packed with ska, calypso, soul, pop and hip-hop flavors and a flair for spinning a yarn. Allen's ability to capture the pulse of a night out, with its flirtations and confrontations, recalls last year's sensation in England, the Arctic Monkeys, and her unsparing eye and pure pleasure in words have earned comparisons to Mike Skinner, the acclaimed London rapper who performs as the Streets. "LDN," for instance, combines bright music with harsh scenes, as the singer rides her bike around London observing pimps, whores and muggers. "Alfie," which closed the show, is a portrait of a younger brother addled on drugs.

She also presents a feisty model of independence, striking at ambition-stifling bureaucrats in "Everything's Just Wonderful" and declaring that it's better to be real than balanced in "Take What You Take." And in romantic put-downs such as "Not Big," she shows that she knows how to hit a guy where it hurts.

Allen, suggesting a "Breakfast at Tiffany's" image in a black cocktail dress and perfectly sculpted hairdo, introduced "Smile" on Saturday by saying that she's played it a lot, "but we can still do it with conviction."

There was a little self-mockery there, but she was right. Her singing throughout the show (she sings much more than she raps) had the crisp enunciation and agile phrasing of the recordings, qualities enhanced by her playfulness and charisma.

She had enough charm to sustain the short performance, but she'll need to stretch the envelope to do her music real justice as a performer -- calling on something more aggressive at one end and more intimate at the other. This wasn't bad as a coming-out party, but now it's time to get to work.

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