Top Ten Lines on the Nellie McKay Record
he day I bought Nellie McKay's Get Away from Me I was in a fairly awful mood. However, by the time Nellie closed "Waiter", the seventh track on the first disc (and still my favorite on either), with an out-of-nowhere rendition of "nothin' could be finer than to be in Carolina in the mooorrrnin'" I was on cloud nine. I knew that what I was hearing would almost certainly end up my favorite album of the year. I couldn't remember the last time a record had made this gosh darn happy.
And it wasn't just the music, which, produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and largely performed by Nellie herself, runs the gamut from (something like) hip-hop to Big Band to torch ballads—it was the personality behind it. Here was a 19 year-old girl, born in England and raised in Harlem, at once, precocious, sprightly, smart, (occasionally, but somehow always endearingly) stoopid, and impossibly adorable even when shouting "die, motherfucker!” The more I listened to the album, the more I loved it (not in spite of Nellie's myriad idiosyncrasies, but because of them). Though I'm generally not a lyrics person, the girl is clearly one hell of a writer. The Eminem comparisons might be a tad trite at this point, but she's every bit as funny and acerbic. If Get Away from Me is the best, and most ambitious, debut album since Exile in Guyville (and I'm increasingly tempted to argue that it is), it's because Nellie might just be the sharpest lyricist since to have emerged since Liz Phair.
Here are some personal favorites:
10. "Salute the flag or I'll call you a fag" ("Won't U Please Be Nice")
Perhaps a touch audacious, it's still the most oft-quoted lyric on the album for a reason.
09. "Maybe I'll get some Chinese / I'll have the dumplings, no MSG please." ("Toto Dies")
That stuff's bad for you.
08. "The Olsen twins got nothin' on us." ("Clonie")
In this love song to herself, Nellie shows that, even when she's not attempting to rap, she has a gangsta's flair for self-aggrandizement.
07. "You ain't got no soul / I don't really get you." (Baby Watch Your Back")
Even better within the context of the song's swinging style.
06. "My cat died and I quickly poured myself some gin / Did she die from old age or was it for my sins?" ("Ding Dong")
Reminiscent of "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine," only, you know, way funnier.
05. "I'm saddened by the news that we won / I wonder what I'd say to the bomb" ("Waiter")
After all, doesn't "winning" just mean that you've out-killed the loser?
04. "I don't think Fritz Lang was a fantasist" ("Work Song")
The girl knows her way to a German expressionist cinema fan's heart! (She would've had me at Murnau.)
03. "When you're female and you're fenced-in and phen-phened to no end...no Zen guide to men will help to fend off the brethren." ("Sari")
Ain't it the truth!
02. "I listen to some rap / I give myself a slap" ("Change the World")
Has hip-hop misogyny ever been addressed so bluntly?
01. "God, you went to Oxford / Head still in your boxers" ("It's a Pose")
Here, she turns the tables completely, singing an anti-male ditty that, if a bit heavy-handed, is nevertheless fair play after having been subjected to "The Thong Song," "Back That Azz Up," and their ilk.