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Nadine Shah - Kitchen Sink (Album Review)

Thursday, 02 July 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

Never one to shy away from contentious subjects, Nadine Shah’s excellent 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’ tackled the migrant crisis on its way to a Mercury nomination. Her fourth album, ‘Kitchen Sink’, addresses traditionalist beliefs like the expectation to raise a family, and ageism, from her perspective as a woman in her mid-30s.

Shah’s self-awareness and biting commentary are obvious on the opener, Club Cougar, where she tears down the double standards apparent when men and women choose to date younger people. “Call me pretty, make your manoeuvre,” she sings. “One year younger, call me a cougar.”

The age issue raises its head several times, suggesting that Shah feels like time is flying. “I am aware of the passing of time,” she sings on Dillydally, where the use of a recorder—the annoying primary school instrument that represents many a child’s first musical experience—might just represent Shah looking over her shoulder.

Surely it wasn’t that long ago that those sounds were ringing in her ears? Trad, an excellent track carried along by its driving undercurrent, goes further: “Shave my legs, freeze my eggs, will you want me when I am old?”

Much like PJ Harvey, Shah has become someone with a voice that you want to listen to. We are compelled to digest her thoughts. She is capable of making us think. It’s a rare quality that only the most revered songwriters possess, but Shah’s gorgeous, evocative vocals make it seem effortless. You can’t help but feel mesmerised by her music. 

The title track is particularly memorable, coming on like a Siouxsie and the Banshees cut that’s been refurbished and brought forward into the 21st century. Its abrasive, spiky guitar riff brings a level of icy post-punk energy, while the buzzy, brassy riff of the opener, and the mesmerising, synth-peppered chorus of Buckfast are breathtakingly refreshing.

Ladies For Babies (Goats For Love) punches at the expectations placed on women alongside unconventional percussion and expansive, genre-splicing sounds and it’s the same with the quite superb Ukranian Wine’s terrific, persistent guitar riffage. Throughout ‘Kitchen Sink’ there are many moments like these, where Shah’s instrumental palette proves striking.

Shah seems to grow with every album, becoming more vital with each step. She has the intangible, magical ability to craft original songs that only become more alluring with repeated listens. Due to the pandemic fallout, Shah was recently forced to decamp back to her parents’ house as she could no longer afford to pay her rent thanks to cancelled shows, including a prime Glastonbury slot. The sterling work on ‘Kitchen Sink’ suggests that when things finally do get back to normal at Worthy Farm, Shah will be even higher up the bill than she was due to be this year.

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