Review Summary: A good, if confusing debut from the UK's most cherished new talent.
Few marketing campaigns have been as blatantly obvious in recent years as the one surrounding Kate Nash. Following the success, both critical and commercial, of Lily Allen, the woman herself earned plenty of column inches and television coverage, becoming something of a style icon and an embassador for young British musicians in the process; and yet she couldn't fully escape criticism that had dogged her since day one. Naturally, her famous father encouraged people to suggest that she hadn't actually had to work all that hard to get where she was, while her appearance and demeanour meant that she had to suffer the quasi-racism of being constantly labelled a chav. Others combined these two ideas and decided to criticize Allen's persona as pure fabrication.
So what people needed was a new Lily Allen. Somebody who went through the same kind of discovery on MySpace. Somebody without any connection to other celebrities. Somebody who was capable of both singing in Allen's unmistakable London accent and in a more 'normal' manner if the mood took her. Somebody that the record labels could market as a 'real musician', capable of at least bashing out three chords on a guitar or piano. Perhaps somebody with a more conventional look, too. Viola! Kate Nash appears. It's the Lily Allen for people who take themselves too seriously to enjoy Lily Allen!
In fairness, Kate Nash is probably good enough to have made it without Lily Allen breaking the commercial ground for her, but the circumstances make it impossible not to compare the two. Polydor have made it so obvious that they think they've signed their own Lily Allen that the two names, for now at least, are solidly connected. Still, neither seems to mind too much, Allen having gone on record in support of Nash's music.
There are certainly key differences in their music, though. Made of Bricks
, underneath the colloquialisms, quirks, and electro glitches, is an album cut from the classic singer-songwriter tradition. The surprise UK #1 "Foundations" is proof enough of that - the pain of disinegrating relationships is well-trodden territory for the genre. What sets Nash apart is her bitter sense of humour in the face of everything, her description of taunting her boyfriend with the line 'Yeah, I'd rather be with your friends mate, because they're all much fitter' raising a smile even as the chorus sneaks its way into your psyche. It's easy to miss just how touching this song is the first few times you hear it, but eventually it gets it claws in and won't let go. That's also the case with the album's best song, "Birds", which is both an undoubtedly sincere, beautiful love song, and a moment of unbridled hilarity. Just check the chorus, as Nash's love interest tries to explain his feelings.
Right, birds can fly so high
And they can *** on your head
Yeah they can almost fly into your eye
And make you feel well scared
But when you look at them
And you see that they're beautiful
That's how I feel about you
Yeah, that's how i feel about you
Nash's character, naturally, responds with an incredulous 'What are you talking about?' If anybody comes up with anything more genius/retarded than this song in 2007, it'll have been the best year ever for slapstick.
After the rather good "We Get On", we get "Mariella", which makes it three great songs on Made of Bricks
. Like a lot of the songs here, it displays Nash's willingness to play about with the structure of her songs. The storytelling here turns away from typical subject matter to tell the story of an antisocial, possibly autistic child - the material here makes it the only point where Nash's reported infatuation with Regina Spektor bears fruit (with the arguable exception of the novelty "Skeleton Song"). And yet, she weaves Spektor's quirky beauty into her own style, dropping into one and out of the other with ease as the song constantly builds and builds to its frenetic conclusion. It's excellent.
Still, for all its strengths, this album smacks of amateurism throughout, as if it was knocked together in a rush by a team of people who were more interested in the deadline than the product. The album would be much better served by jumping straight into "Foundations" than wasting time with "Play", a lazy track containing absolutely nothing of note. Tracks like "Mouthwash", while certainly not bad, feel like they weren't properly thought out, with the cultural references feeling less natural than they should. The lighty soulful "Dickhead" and the electropop styled "*** Song" both could have been highlights, but it feels like there's no substance to them, with Nash clearly resorting to swearing for humour. And why were "Nicest Thing" and "Merry Happy", both very good songs, buried at the end of the album? The amatuerism even feeds into the song titles - is there really any need to have three songs back to back bearing the titles "*** Song", "Pumpkin Song", and "Skeleton Song"? It's slightly jarring, and sad when you consider that apart from "Play", there actually aren't any bad songs here, just decent songs lacking the execution and attention they deserve.
This could well have been a much better album than it is. Still, there's enough here to indicate that Nash's obvious natural flair for songwriting will blossom, and that her fearless voice will only get better with experience. I'm completely confident in predicting that her next album will be a big step forward from this.