"I feel like I got away with something," says a smiling, pink-haired Lily Allen. She's talking about her hit debut, 2006's Alright, Still, but the sentiment covers her entire career. "I left school at 15. I'm not a genius songwriter. I don't think I'm really good at anything."
Allen arrived in Los Angeles a week earlier to finish her second album, which is expected next year. She's been working sporadically since last November with producer Greg Kurstin of the Bird and the Bee (he produced two on her first set). They've completed nearly 20 songs, Allen says, but she's not ready to start picking favorites yet. "I feel like I need two more to make the others make sense with each other," she says. Her tentative title? Stuck on the Naughty Step. "In England, when kids are naughty, they get sent to sit on the naughty step," she explains. "Like a timeout, you know? I feel like I'm stuck in a hole where people say, 'Lily, you're bad. Go think about what you've done.' "
Allen believes her tabloid image as a miscreant is undeserved. "Who, at age 23, hasn't passed out from alcohol? I just happen to have photographers following me. I haven't drunk the whole time I've been here in L.A., and I'm up every day at 8."
Their sessions begin at the piano. "Greg builds the chords up and I just sing along and make up the words," she says. "And then once you've got the bare song, we decide which way we're gonna go with the production." Based on a sample of seven demos, the album's sound is more electropop and less ska-based than Allen's debut. Highlights include "Everyone's at It," a synth-pop song about prescription drugs that features Allen on xylophone; "He Wasn't There," which matches emotional lyrics about her absent father to a jazz groove; and "Not Fair," a saucy country song about an inadequate lover.
"I'm really scared about what people are going to say," Allen says. "I don't know why. Some people will like it and some won't. If people hate it, then I'll just try something else." She already has her post-singing career picked out: "I'd really like to do A&R at a record company. I love going to gigs."