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It's almost too easy to give Kate Nash flak for her foul mouth. After all, her trash-talking comes just a few songs into her debut, Made of Bricks, on a number titled "Dickhead."
Wait a minute — really? People actually use the word "dickhead" past elementary school? Nash does, and the tune's trite, finger-snapped, jazz-bass crawl is built mostly around the repetitive refrain, "Why you being a dickhead for? Stop being a dickhead. Why you being a dickhead for? You're just fucking up situations."
So the suburban London songstress is responsible for the most drivel-y hook to come out of the U.K. last year. Featuring the song on an otherwise-decent album was probably a mistake. The record's clean turns of phrase such as "You say I must eat so many lemons because I'm so bitter" won't win her any awards for lyrical wit, either.
British bloggers and satirists have taken Nash to task for her lyrical shallowness — an anonymous novelty track called "LDN Is a Victim" (LDN is an abbreviation for London) racked up YouTube hits last year, skewering Nash and her contemporaries for a perceived lack of sincerity and substance. But to fixate on her gratuitous vulgarities and expressive shortcomings is to ignore the bigger picture.
Bricks, which received its stateside release this week, is the latest product of the UK buzz machine's femme agit-pop department. Moreover, it is the scene's most refined showing.
Like Lily Allen, Nash sings in a cheeky Cockney style and fixates on failed relationships, lovelorn flights of fancy, and boys who have done her wrong. Like Amy Winehouse, she has a thematic fondness for piano-driven soul and putting on the drink.
But Winehouse's Back to Black felt like a producer's album built around a pop singer's voice. Meanwhile, Allen's Alright, Still conveyed a personality that stemmed strongly from the singer, but beyond her biting words and melodic leads, the horn samples and reggae arrangements kept the substance of the record in its production team's court.
By comparison, Nash comes off as the only genuine songwriter of the bunch, a 20-year-old who sits at her piano and plucks out wistful melodies, builds ideas around them, then brings them to the studio for the final coat of wax.
Take the mid-album piece "Mariella," which has the quirky stream-of-consciousness allure of Regina Spektor. It starts off slowly in a minor-key bass-clef waltz, Nash telling the story of a girl who glues her lips together so she can remain quiet. The tempo builds to double time, loops and double-tracked harmonies enter, but the focus of the song remains Nash singing at the piano, not the studio trickery.
Nash is harder to discern amid the dance tempos and bleating trumpets of "Pumpkin Soup," but she's there. The uppity number's melodic structure is based around her piano line, and though the thrill in the chorus is hearing her belt out, "I just want your kiss," you have a lingering desire for the adornments to disappear, since the song would still fare well stripped down. The addictive single, "Foundations," and the album closer, "Merry Happy," start similarly with solitary staccato piano notes, then voice, then drum loops and guitars. One cut is slow, one is speedy, but they can also be traced back to the same central simplicity.
On opener "Play," a minute-long spree of ProTools noodling, the singer plainly lays out her agenda over beats: "I like to play." It's the most basic summation of her music: a game, a romp, a young musician having fun. Nash swears and acts uncouth, but she isn't trying to be anything more than lighthearted and lively. Musicians in Britain often face a choice between dire seriousness and studied wit, lest they be panned at the hands of the country's notoriously fickle music press. Nash chooses neither, and this frank approach lends her occasionally feeble songwriting more substance than her diva contemporaries can muster, or than her hometown crowd gives her credit for.
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