West London’s Kate Nash exploded in her native country in 2007 thanks to single “Foundations” (and support from discoverer Lily Allen), reaching #1 in Britain (and #36 in America) with debut album Made of Bricks (QRO review) – but you could already feel the haters reaching for their knives. ‘She’s just a retread of Lily Allen’, ‘Her low-class accent is fake’, ‘She’s one-note pop’, ‘She only sings about boys/relationships’, etc. were some of the comments thrown down. No wonder she had a “proper breakdown” (her own words) in Germany after a ton of touring (and drinking), getting into a fight with boyfriend Ryan Jarman (singer/guitarist of The Cribs – QRO live review). But Nash is back, and answers the critics by expanding her sound on follow-up My Best Friend Is You.
With a title like that, one would be forgiven for thinking that the new record is just some more cheery (possibly in word now, as well as sound) girl-pop, and that’s still Nash’s strength. Girl-group upbeat opener “Paris”, following smiling ‘don’t cheat on me’ sixties-grand “Kiss That Grrrl”, and definitely single “Do-Wah-Doo” all bring a bright catch, with the right level of Nash’s ‘battle of the sexes’ commentary. However, Nash also stretches, most successfully into a more wistful, but also more orchestral direction. Strings are added to “Paris”, while “Early Christmas Present” trades in her over-the-top catch for a more sedate enjoyment. And “Don’t You Want To Share the Guilt?” is the finest example, with not just orchestration and wist, but also a rapid talking part by Nash that actually fits in.
However, not all excursions work on My Best Friend: witness Nash trying to do a tough, righteous spoken word on “Mansion Song”, from the viewpoint of the bed-hopping lasses she so clearly hates more than pities. While not as bad or as outlying after multiple listens, and the concluding line, “She should have been a mansion” (followed by tribal drumming & lo-fi shout-back back half) actually does have some weight, it’s still bad spoken word in the middle of an enjoyable indie-pop album. What’s more, it highlights Nash’s rather repetitive subject matter (boys’ wandering eyes, the kind of girls who catch those eyes) to the point of overkill – it would be damn hard to listen to the seven songs that precede “Mansion” on Best Friend and not get what Nash was saying, and don’t need it to be spelled out for you in bold letters.
The preceding “I’ve Got a Secret” doesn’t know what it wants to be, lilting high or tech beats, but after “Mansion”, the rest of Best Friend is more capable, if not as good as what Nash does best. “Later On” looks to the electro-lady that has been rising these days (Lady Gaga, Little Boots), if more restrained, while “Pickpocket”, “You Were So Far Away” and “I Hate Seagulls” close the record out on an intimate note. Those three might have been better served had they been spaced on the track list, rather than bunched together at the end, and don’t reach the heights of beauty that one looks for in a piano & vox like “Pickpocket”, or the close-up & sad “Away”. Oh, and why does any artist still have hidden music, at the end of the last track, after a period of silence? Instead of ending or repeating or shuffling, “Seagulls” goes quiet but keeps playing, forcing the listener to fast-forward to a coda refrain of the album’s title.
No, My Best Friend Is You isn’t as pitch-perfect enjoyment as Made of Bricks, and not all of Kate Nash’s ventures outside of her wheelhouse work. But she needed to stretch musically (now how about lyrically?…). And whatever happened to Lily Allen, anyway?…
MP3 Stream: “Don’t You Want To Share the Guilt?”