Nadine Shah’s last album, the Mercury-nominated ‘Holiday Destination’, was a searing response to the political turmoil caused by Brexit and Trump. This was a topic that Shah was perfectly suited to tackling, being an intelligent, outspoken and feminist songwriter, but it did often mean that her songs – while brilliant – were dark and brooding. Her new album, ‘Kitchen Sink’, is once again political, but is about women’s place in the world, the infinite different lives they lead, and the difficulties of being a strong female. While it goes to some dark places, Shah is able to have a lot more fun as she embodies all these different female experiences.
This is obvious right from the jump, as ‘Club Cougar’ places her out on the town, being chatted up by a young man whom she laughs off: “Your conversation makes me abhor ya.” Her band rises to match her sneering glee, providing swaggering brass fanfare to which she adds ironic catcalls – a truly superb opening to the record. This instrumental prowess remains through the majority of ‘Kitchen Sink’, the band revelling in the opportunity to be more expressive and outrageous in tandem with Shah’s stories.
‘Buckfast’ is a perfect example, as they back Shah’s story of a drunken man gaslighting his partner with a skronking and slightly lopsided jazz-rock, portraying his physical and mental instability. In ‘Trad’ Shah is embodying a woman who is desperate to please her man – “shave my legs / freeze my eggs” – and the band provide a lightly danceable rock bop, before the singer declares her readiness for holy matrimony in the chorus, the band giving the song a divine lift through a subtle layer of brass. ‘Walk’ has lightly dextrous percussion that puts us in the shoes of a woman who is simply out for a stroll, but finds herself “swerving perverts” and being watched by “prying eyes” – the rising discomfort and anger brilliantly reflected by buzzing synth textures, while flute animates her picking up the pace to get away.
Central to the whole album is the title track, where Shah takes up the traditional housewife role, bored of what her neighbours think – “Forget about the curtain twitchers / Gossiping boring bunch of bitches.” The band provide echoing jabs of guitar, like thoughts bouncing around her benumbed skull as she watches with pure apathy: “I just let them pass me by.”
The 11 tracks on ‘Kitchen Sink’ each take on an internal perspective of an entirely different life, made vivid through detailed instrumentation – and describing them in words is only scratching the surface. The very idea of a ‘kitchen sink drama’ is to reflect real life and offer some kind of understanding for the personalities within them. That’s exactly what Nadine Shah’s new album does, and the only way to earn that empathy for all the women she portrays is to invest some time in listening to it.
Words: Rob Hakimian
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