Beware the third album, otherwise known as the Decider. Among would-be career artists, it’s the make-or-break release that separates adult from child, evolving creator from one-cycle wonder, the luckily timed from experienced, focused musical connector. Prince’s “Dirty Mind,” Jay Z’s “Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life,” Madonna’s “True Blue,” Kanye West’s “Graduation” — each arrived to a public wondering on an artistic direction after assured introductions.
This week sees the arrival of two notable third albums, both by artists, Lily Allen and Lykke Li, gunning for stateside pop crossover equal to their homeland success but approaching the task from wildly varied perspectives.
Allen, best known for her captivating Internet-spawned 2006 debut, “Alright, Still,” delivers brash pop incitement on “Sheezus,” a dozen seamlessly constructed sonic selfies that are witty, oft-engaging and surprisingly moody. And on “I Never Learn,” Swedish singer and songwriter Li presents a spacious, restrained set of songs in which much focus is on a single love and the fluid ways in which it can evolve.
Both feature production work by Los Angeles hitmaker Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Kesha, Ellie Goulding, the Bird and the Bee), but the similarities are few. While Li aims her dynamic, textured voice toward beauty, reflection and stillness with a seeming obsession, Allen works overtime to assure us she’s still relevant, hip and insightful — at one point listing highlights of her record collection — even while pretending not to care.