Intensity is the word that comes to mind when I think about Nadine Shah.
Intensity of purpose, of sound, of vision…everything about Nadine Shah screams intensity. Her humour is coal-black and morbid, her music is challenging and muscular, and her unique perspective on the human condition is incomparable. Nadine Shah is intensity, personified.
Her favourite artist of all time? Scott Walker. Her favourite Talking Heads album? Naked. The artists she’s frequently compared to? Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and other neo-noir hardboiled Goth-ites. These aren’t things one should take lightly, and although they’re clear indicators, these factoids can’t really prepare you for the onslaught Shah delivers on Kitchen Sink.
That Talking Heads album – frequently overlooked because of just how draining it is – informs the opening salvo, “Club Cougar”, with its blaring brass and thunderous rhythms. It’s the first sign that you need to strap yourself in, and Shah just increases the pressure relentlessly throughout this excellent record: the guitars throughout the album are aggressive and sharp-edged, the bass is consistently robust and roaring, and rhythms are serpentine and oppressive - barely a moment goes by that you aren’t feeling Shah’s own claustrophobia, the weight of her own aging bearing down on your shoulders. The haunting, open-sky, Wild West terror of “Kite” is one such track that just oozes existential doom, from its ringing synths to its dizzying guitar – it’s like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, reimagined by Cormac McCarthy and brought to life by a Geordie goth. The demons you meet there on the prairie are real.
“Buckfast” is a loose Berlin blues, with dead eyes, open mouth and a lurching gait – this is “Sister Midnight” as written by Sylvia Plath or Shirley Jackson. 1977 Iggy informs the swinging rhythm of “Trad”, but this time the slack-jawed, sweat-slicked Lust for Life speed demon. Elsewhere, the chiming indie rock of “Ukrainian Wine” carries hints of the Velvet Underground, and the steamy, rubbery grooves of “Dillydally” instantly evoke Can, and David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. All of these complementary flavours combine to a truly satisfying whole: this is Shah’s fourth, and best, album.
Earlier I said that intensity is the thing that comes to mind when you think about Nadine Shah, and in all seriousness, it’s probably just because she seems to feel things so intensely. Aging, and motherhood, and society, and femininity – all weaponised and handled with aggression and raw power. Shah isn’t angry, nor is she raging against anything in particular, but her clear-eyed sense of perception just skewers humanity, with all of our strengths, all of our flaws. Nadine Shah is an equal-opportunity misanthrope, and she’s coming for you, whether you like it or not.