Monday, 22 July 2013

Kate Nash in 2013

It's six years since Kate Nash released Made of Bricks, an album which inspired many critics to ask, "Is Kate Nash copying Lily Allen or is Lily Allen copying Kate Nash!?!?" It mattered as little then as it does now, but at least people have stopped asking - and Kate Nash isn't making the girly piano-pop that first provoked the comparison. This year, she released Girl Talk, a punkier, self-consciously wilder album than either of her others. From my perspective as a vague follower of her now defunct relationship with Crib Ryan Jarman, it sounds very much like a break-up album. She's done away with the pretty melodies and piano jingles and replaced them with Riot Grrrl bass and Kim Gordon-esque moaning - much more likely to divide opinion than anything on her first release.

When Nash released her second album, I was unimpressed. It was more Made of Bricks, only not as good. Listen to the first album's 'Shit Song', 'Dickhead', even the leading single 'Foundations', and you're faced with a barrage of beautifully targeted venom - though Made of Bricks was twee, it was also nicely bitter, and a breath of fresh air in amongst all 2007's sweet-as-pie female singer-songwriters who wouldn't swear for toffee. By contrast, 2010's My Best Friend is You was as subjectless as its title: she was happy, but her artistic bent seems to rely on a bit of anger. This year's album is definitely a testament to that.

Not only is Nash going round the world shouting the word 'feminist' from the rooftops (and no matter how problematic you think her feminism might be, the very use of the word in popular discourse gives it fresh power), she's also making really great music. I didn't expect to be won back over to Kate Nash, but Girl Talk has probably done it. It's angry, and 'feminist', and so bitter. The video above, I think, targets the album's two main bugbears: sexism and The Ex.

If I wanna talk, I’ll call,

but in the mean time thanks for all

the public displays of affection.

I know you’re tryna to get my attention.

Trashy, cheap talk magazines.

While I stay classy, you stain jeans.

You’re coming over all my friends.

Oh, thank Heavens it’s the end.

These aren't poésie, but who wants poésie in punk anyway (Doherty aside)? If she were talking about Jarman, and I'm just hypothesising here like a trashy cheap-talk magazine, then it would make sense - after all, Exclamation Pony, Jarman's new band (cofronted by Jen Turner, Nash's close friend), have been known to end raucous sets with onstage snogging, and Jarman does stain a lot of jeans.

Escaping the realm of gossip though, I think it's a brilliantly put-together song. It builds up gradually, developing its melodies and harmonies, and the production is first-rate: the guitar sound and dual vocal effect make it a real divergence from earlier albums.

Though Nash's move into the punk sound shouldn't distract us from bands who've done feminism much more violently and more punkily, bands like Bikini Kill, Hole, The Slits and Russia's Pussy Riot, I consider it a step in the right direction, both musically and lyrically. I'm sure there have been some critics (and will be more) who condemn Nash for trying to find a niche, trying to 'play' at being a rock star, to overstep the bounds of her formerly twee, sweet sound, but I'm going to ignore those critics. Judging from this excerpt from an interview, that's just what she's doing:

Interviewer: When you released some of your new work you got quite a strong reaction; is it hard not to take it personally when people are critical?

Kate Nash: Well I found it quite enjoyable actually this time round, it created such a stir when I released 'Underestimate the Girl', that was sort of the point - everyone plays it so safe and no-one wants to mess with the rules, and all the reactions kind of proved me right. So that was exciting to watch and just as an experiment - seeing how people react negatively when somebody does something different. I think its good to make people feel uncomfortable sometimes.

If it makes music like Girl Talk, it certainly is.

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