Kate Nash - Girl Talk
Doesn't 2007 feel like so long ago? Well, Kate Nash probably thinks so when remembering the summer where that ol' chestnut Myspace turned her into an overnight pop sensation and saw her celebrate turning 20 with a debut number one album. The intervening years haven't been quite so kind on Nash, with second album My Best Friend is You failing to capture the public imagination quite so much as her early singles, despite an attempt at a maturer sound that threw a slightly punkier, overtly feminist aesthetic on top of her hitherto established estuary-accented spin on Regina Spektor piano pop.
With the independently released Girl Talk, Nash makes it refreshingly clear that she couldn't give a four-letter-word what the critics or larger music-buying public think, as long as she and her clutch of faithful fans are happy. But, with Nash turning up the amps and embracing the riot grrrl persona she's fine-tuned over the last couple of years, will those fans be turned off?
In all honesty, if you've never taken to Nash prior to 'Girl Talk', nothing here will really dissuade you from your current stance: although Nash has done a pretty good chameleon job, the vocal inflections and oftentimes awkward lyrics and even the musical ghost of Lily Allen all remain to a degree. However, Nash's brash self-confidence and uncompromising approach replaces the simple keyboard chord changes of 'Foundations' for something, if not entirely successful, at least bravely different in its divisiveness.
Opening with the low-slung grunge of 'Part Heart' is no mistake made on Nash's part; following her breakup last year from rock star boyfriend Ryan Jarman of The Cribs, the heartbreak here builds into a climax complete with suitably angry guitars and snarled lamentations. It sets the tone for a record that makes its own girl power racket somewhere between American femme-rock (a la Hole and Le Tigre) and 90s female-fronted Britpop (Sleeper, Republica, etc) with Nash doing her best to convince as a genuine 'alt' figure.
My soft spot for Nash, I think, derives from the fact that she's a) a genuinely British pop star and b) not Olly Murs. These two points are inevitably linked; in a world where many of Kate's peers are floundering in post-talent show careers, Nash is struggling but along her own path. Even during Girl Talk's most ill-conceived moments, namely the cringey 'Rap for Rejection' and garage rocker 'Sister' with its part-squawked part-drawled vocal, she inexplicably maintains some semblance of creative integrity and still possesses those quirks that made her so accessible and likeable when she was rhyming 'bittah' with 'fittah'.
So, while some moments here feel like kid sister dressing up and singing vintage Kenickie in Courtney Love getup, others are plenty charming. For example, 'Death Proof' throws surf guitar, jangling bass and Nash's noirish vamp ('I don't have time to die') into a Tarantino-owned blender that explodes on to the dancefloor in a bloody, knowing mess. The Kate of old is hinted at too on the softer-edged 'Are You There Sweetheart?', loved-up confessional '3AM' and the cutesy pop of 'Oh', which should relieve any fans that don't get on board with the intentionally cartoonish climax to 'Conventional Girl' and frequent outbursts of thrashing guitar.
Whether this record wins you over or this review is enough to confirm that it's not for you, give the lady her props. It's a good job her record label dropped her prior to Girl Talk because this would have been the final nail; however, Nash sounds like she's having so much fun committing what should be career suicide that it's actually pretty infectious. Sure, a lot of it is throwaway, some of it just poor, but although thoroughly lo-fi some parts feel weightier than before, perhaps due to Nash bringing her experience of real adult heartbreak to the table in place of teenage drama. Jarman's indie background has been an implicit influence but, despite the chaotic mix of influences, Nash somehow manages to keep things just on the right side of listenable so that the final flourish of widescreen strings at the end of the acapella 'Lullaby' feels like a victory - for her after making it work just about, and us for getting through it with her.