Made of Bricks
aken at face value, 20-year-old popstrel du jour Kate Nash is the Lily Allen it’s OK to like—if you need a shot of something credible alongside your (ever so slightly) leftfield pop music. Look! She plays piano and guitar. Look! She’s not the daughter of a notorious Brit Pack actor. Look! She’s produced by Paul Epworth. Look! She’s a child genius. Look! She came through the MySpace ranks. Look! She’s been ruthlessly parodied by an internet prankster.
Further evidence comes in the form of recent UK #2 hit single “Foundations,” an undeniably well-composed pop song in the Lily Allen mold, layered with hooks, and run through with a delicious, regret-meets-spite chorus that’s too strong and too catchy to be overpowered by Nash’s chav-tastic vowels and lazy consonants. There’s none of the Specials-esque rhythmic sass that typifies Lily’s sound, though; despite the enunciation, Kate Nash’s tone by comparison is one of restrained semi-sophistication, and thus is actually less sophisticated than Miss Allen’s more usable pop.
Which is why there’s something about Nash’s marked estuary pronunciation that seems more than a little like affectation, especially when aligned with her clean, wholesome appearance and Catholic education—she resembles no one so much as a polite, Home Counties version of Jenny Lewis, with her dark ginger tresses, cardigans and wan smile, playing at being the town center bitch by garbling her received pronunciation. She’s certainly lacking the kind of idiosyncratic fashion sass that led Lily Allen to her own range of clothes in a high street retailer.
Because beyond the diction there’s actually not much to tie Kate Nash to Lily Allen other than the MySpace marketing angle. Rather, her piano runs and repetitive vocal ticks recall a chaved-up Regina Spektor, but rather than Regina’s bona fide bizarre Russian / New York / Jewish background, Nash’s wackiness seems a little uncomfortable. Strung-out character songs like “Mariella,” while having plenty in common with both Regina and Lily in terms of structure and delivery, have little in common with either in terms of how much it actually reveals about the singer.
Likewise the minimal, jazzy strum of the charmingly-titled “Dickhead,” in which Nash unsurprisingly bemoans a (presumably ex) boyfriend who was a bit of a… dickhead; even the quaintly weary refrain sounds scripted, which of course it is, but a great performance can make even the most prefabricated material moving. Nash can’t even fully invest herself in her own songs, and giving them titles like “Shit Song” smacks of a half-hearted attempt to shock your mother. That the production is occasionally pumped-up and popified when Nash seems more comfortable playing and singing alone doesn’t help.
Sure, there’s a degree of sass, craft, and character here alongside the occasionally identikit pop, but it often seems faintly accidental; witness the genius-or-idiocy chorus of “Birds” (“Birds can fly so high / And they can shit on your head / Yeah they can almost fly into your eye / And make you feel so scared / But when you look at them / And you see that they are beautiful / That’s how I feel about you”), wherein the delivery is every bit as bafflingly moronic/beautiful as the lyric, and make up your own mind.
Kate Nash’s debut album shows a great deal of promise—she can play, she can craft a hook and a tune, and when she stops with the chav-esque mewl she can sing, too. But amidst all this, Nash keeps herself resolutely in the background of her songs, revealing precious little of her own personality or emotion, and it’s this reservation that makes her fail as a popstar, at least right now.