Let's be honest. If Lily Allen didn't already exist then someone would have to invent her. Like her or loathe her, there is something quite refreshing about a pop star who embraces the modern era of communications to the extent that her own blogs and sites become an unfettered view of what she is thinking and feeling without the normal filter of PR people and image consultants. Add to that her other activities such as really bad TV shows and strange tastes in boyfriends, and she is a walking, talking, singing headline-generating machine. Perfect for maintaining one's profile.
Two and a half years on from her acclaimed debut album Alright, Still it is time for her to remind the world just what it is she is famous for in the first place. Heralding the release later this month of her brand new album It's Not Me, It's You comes lead single The Fear. As is almost traditional with Lily Allen releases, the track has had a long and public gestation, appearing on her MySpace page as far back as last April and receiving its first proper airplay in early December. Finally released for sale, the single rockets to the top of the singles chart to give Lily a second Number One single to accompany Smile from 2006.
The Fear is well worthy of the honour as well, a typically acerbic rant about the sterile nature of life wrapped up in a lavish and rather lush production. It is the best kind of pop record, one that might not seem so immediate at first glance, but which steadily buries its way into your mind to the extent that you find yourself wanting to hum it at the most random moments. Let's be honest, sometimes her "I will say what I like and stuff the rest of you" attitude can be a little wearing, but when she backs it up with music this interesting you can actually forgive her a great deal.
As befitted its long lead-in, The Fear had a typically complicated release pattern, its video having been given away free on iTunes in early January and being released to advance purchasers online two days early. Those Friday and Saturday sales the week before last were chart ineligible, but the 1,000 or so CD singles that leaked into the stores before last weekend were not, resulting in the single actually charting last week as the 168th best selling single of the week. Hence you may see certain chart rundowns disagreeing as to whether the single is a new entry at the top or not. With chart records only counting the "official" Top 75 as per the Music Week listings, The Fear sadly won't be breaking any chart jump records just for the moment but it does at least have the honour of being the first distribution leak to make such a jump to the top since the positions below that cut-off stopped being subject to enforced chart removals in 2007.
It is also worth noting that Lily Allen is now the fourth female singer in a row to top the UK charts - hard on the heels of Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and Lady Gaga. By a strange coincidence, this is the first time this has happened since the summer of 2006 when her own Smile also completed the set, following in the footsteps of Sandi Thom, Nelly Furtado and Shakira. Eagle-eyed readers will note that this does rather overlook Colby O'Donis' credited contribution to Just Dance but I think it is allowed - the 2006 run also pretends that Wyclef Jean didn't appear on Hips Don't Lie.
Number One on the albums chart is not, as many were expecting, Franz Ferdinand but instead, a critically revived Bruce Springsteen who soars to the top with new album Working On A Dream. It is The Boss' 8th Number One album in this country and continues a run of form which has seen all but one of his 21st-century releases top the chart. His only relative failure was the 2006 vanity project We Shall Overcome which saw him cover 13 songs popularised by folk singer Pete Seeger. Although still a strong seller, the album could only peak at Number 3. Still, let us not understate what he can still achieve even in this, the fourth decade of his career. I'm writing this whilst watching him perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl in Florida and am almost without words to describe just how good he is.
Back to the singles chart and the only other single to enter the Top 10 this week is, as expected, Breathe Slow from Alesha Dixon which leaps 13-6 to land just one place below the peak scaled by The Boy Does Nothing back in November. Her only musical offerings to climb higher were two singles she appeared on as part of Mis-Teeq, All I Want and Scandalous which both made Number 2 in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
Falling just short is the American Top 10 single I'm Yoursfrom Jason Mraz. Until now rather better know back home than he is here, the single is taken from the 31-year-old singer songwriter's third studio album. It was first released here in June last year but failed to chart. With the single having spent most of the last seven months in the upper reaches of charts all over the world it would have been odd to say the least for the UK to have missed the boat completely, hence a timely re-release just before Christmas and a typically steady climb for the single ever since. With an 11 place jump this week taking the single to Number 11, keep your fingers crossed that it finally breaks the plane of the Top 10 next week. [But alas, this would be as far as the single would climb. That said, it would linger on the charts for months on end, its sales profile such that it would wind up as one of the biggest selling singles never to reach the Top 10].
There is an unexpected surprise at Number 14 in the shape of a new entry from the previously unknown Tommy Reilly. Confusingly sharing him name with the legendary harmonica player, Reilly was last week the winner of the Orange Unsigned Act award which (along with its tie-in TV series) set out to recognise the very best undiscovered talent. Part of the prize for the award was naturally a major label release for both a single and album and so shortly after his victory was announced last weekend, Reilly's winning song Gimme A Call was released online. I don't think anyone associated with the show or the award expected it to have quite the impact it did, but the track quickly became one of the most popular releases of the week, the net result being that the man who was all but unknown outside of his usual stomping ground of Glasgow suddenly finds himself with the 14th biggest selling single of the week.
Also new to the Top 40 is T-Shirt from Shontelle which creeps 43-25 after charting for the first time last week. After the global success of Rihanna it was almost inevitable that a search would be on for another Barbadian singing superstar and in the shape of Shontelle it seems she has been found. T-Shirt is enormously appealing, very catchy, guaranteed to put a smile on your face - and dare I suggest it bears a melodic and structural similarity to Jordin Sparks' Tattoo.
Finally, for this week, the hottest concert ticket of the past seven days surely has to have been the Pussycat Dolls who have been staging spectaculars up and down the country. It all helps new single Whatcha Think About That hit the Top 40 at Number 36, neatly replacing I Hate This Part which dips out of the 40 after a frustrating 13 week run that saw it bound around the chart but ultimately never peak any higher than Number 12, their first ever hit to miss the Top 10. Indeed singles-wise, the girls are outsold by some margin by their support acts. Ne-Yo rebounds to Number 19 with Mad but most of the headlines were of course reserved for Lady Gaga. She too sees both her currently charting tracks go into reverse, Just Dance surrendering the Number One crown and Poker Face slipping back two places to Number 28. Needless to say as her next single proper, the latter has plenty more life in it yet.