Eventually, there comes a point in your life when you just have to concede that you just can’t do certain things now that you’re older. It’s true with all of us, but it’s especially true with musicians. Green Day spent a good portion of their career trying to recreate the snotty attitude, and megastar sales, of their classic album Dookie, realizing only much later that maturity, and a rock opera, was more age-appropriate. Indie-rock icons the Soft Boys reunited in the new millennium to try and recreate their signature sound on 2002’s Nextdoorland, but even with their hearts in the right places, it still couldn’t hold a candle to their 1980 jangle-rock masterpiece Underwater Moonlight.
With this in mind, Kate Nash should simply embrace her two-decades-old exuberance, because the joyous, crass, undeniable sense of fun that pours out of Made of Bricks—her debut album—is not likely to ever, ever repeat itself.
“What you bein’ a dickhead for? / You’re just fuckin’ up situations,” she sweetly coos over the beat-café guitar strums that open “Dickhead”, a biting song that actually uses its vulgarity with purpose. Made of Bricks wears its Parental Advisory sticker with pride. Nash is the kind of girl who drops F-bombs in everyday conversations, so why shouldn’t it be a reflection of her lyrical persona as well? The whole album bears Nash’s distinct Nellie McKay by way of Regina Spektor accent, giving her voice a personal, conversational feel. Yet it’s this kind of upfront delivery that removes any traces of wry irony from the disc. So when she attempts the big romantic ballad (“Birds”), it winds up rivaling Day One’s “Love on the Dole” for the title of Most Romantic British Ballad of the decade. The way that Nash decodes small human quirks—intentionally trying to bump into someone but accidentally bumping into them too hard—is nothing short of brilliant, attacking the issues all with the wit and showmanship of a great observational comedian.
While Nash’s wit is truly a glory to behold (hearing the tale of a girl who can repeat the alphabet backwards “without making any mistakes” tells you a lot about a person), it’s ultimately the music that turns out to be Nash’s strongest cards. With the help of Paul Epworth, Nash manages to craft a soundscape that, using Lily Allen’s patented brand of blog-pop as a template, practically jumps off the speakers. The album even opens with a static-damaged hip-hop beat and sparse funk guitar, making for one hell of a red herring, before launching into another “found sound” styled track: “Foundations”, which itself is replete with pseudo-sampled guitars, keyboards and more.
The album always feels like it’s built off of someone else’s sampled music, with Nash’s piano then not-so-gently being played over it. “Mariella”, for example, starts with a slowed down piano/drum loop that verges on the edge of mindless repetition, but then half-way through, the melody shifts slightly, and the tempo gets faster and faster and faster and Nash begins singing faster and faster as if her life depended on it. The only downside to such quirky whims is that sometimes they get the better of Nash, particularly on “Skeleton Song” in which she appears to be dating … a skeleton. Though it doesn’t have as much emotional gravitas as, say, the tear-jerking “Nicest Thing”, it still rides one of the most ridiculously feel-good melodies this side of “Come on Eileen”. It’s often hard to bring down heavy criticism upon someone whose songs just make you feel so good.
Though its doubtful that Made of Bricks will go down as one of the greatest debuts in UK history, it’s still a remarkably entertaining and witty disc, doubling over as the album equivalent of a fun, summer popcorn movie. If anything, it’s almost worth getting in on the ground floor with Kate Nash, because there’s no way she’ll ever be able to make an album as far-reaching, goofy, or youthful as Made of Bricks ever again.
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// Notes from the Road
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