Review: Kate Nash’s “My Best Friend Is You”

Apr 26, 2010 12:49pm

Do you remember in 1997 how exciting it was when the members of Blur decided to wear their love of American indie and noise-rock on their sleeves.  Do you remember how raw and fresh “Song 2″ sounded the first time you heard it? On her second record, singer Kate Nash has decided to pull off a similar reinvention.  Her first record, from two years ago, “Made Of Bricks,” was a satisfactory, yet difficult pop record.  The single, “Foundations” stood out, while other tracks like the irritating “Mariella,” tested her listeners’ patience. This debut showed a little promise, but it was far from remarkable.  She earned her comparisons toLily Allen, but seemed second rate in comparison.  Luckily, “My Best Friend Is You” is a vast improvement, showcasing much more range and bite.  Each one of its fourteen songs has its firm place on the album and not a single track seems like filler.  Nash has made one of the most solid, addictive records of 2010.  The majority of the record was produced by Suede guitarist, Bernard Butler, whose buzz-bin background no doubt adds to this record’s edge.  At its core, this is not really a pop record like its predecessor.  There are some pop songs on it, but it leans more towards a fuzzy alt-rock realm, mostly borrowing elements from sixties girl-group sing-a-longs and early nineties Riot Grrrls.  Nash has grown considerably as a songwriter.  Her songs now match the level of sass she projects.  This record more than redeems all the faults of her last effort.  She couldn’t have improved any more, in fact.  The record’s progression seems to go in movements.  The first two tracks are in a smart pop realm.  “Paris” is strikingly catchy. The strings and rising guitars punctuate a rousing chorus which repeats the phrase “You’ll never listen to me.”  This sets off two of Nash’s recurring hallmarks.  First, she is a master at making repeated phrases not seem monotonous, and second, her songs are always packed with an uncanny element of inner turmoil.  She has many frustrations and her lyrics read like a list of grievances.  She wears her heart genuinely on her sleeve and you can feel her authenticity as a writer in every one of her songs.  It’s a rare gift. “Kiss That Grrrl,” despite its name, continues us in the pop portion of the record.  It’s an appealing, sixties infused track where Nash sings about a rival.  There’s a recurring theme of inadequacy on this record, particularly dealing with other women and the way men she likes observe them.  It’s a studied sort of distaste that she aims towards these women.  One gets the idea that the sense of appeal is simultaneously mysterious and frustrating.  “She’s instantly more pretty and more interesting than me,” Nash declares.  Her lyrics are humbling and one wonders why she feels so inferior.  Not since Liz Phair’s masterpiece, “Exile In Guyville” has frank, feminine strength and vulnerability been so out on front.  Nash doesn’t quite have Phair’s expansive narrative gifts, but she does have her own, unique delivery style.  She tends to ramble, which somehow makes her more appealing and compelling.  The song’s chorus is, “Kiss that Grrrl and I will shrink up and I will die and I will think up a thousand ways that I can hurt you and you will never touch my hand.”  Her status as the vengeful underdog makes you always want to root for her.  In many of these songs, Nash projects an image of a “Mean Girl” with a tender core, who only attacks when provoked.  “Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt?” has a softer center and it marks the album’s first transition.  The track opens with the lyrics, “Barbeque food is good./ You invite me out to eat, / I should….go,/ But I’m feeling kind of nervous and not quite myself, / And I’m running late on purpose and I know this won’t help.”  These words at first seem so basic, but they are also painfully honest.  Nash is not a singer who puts on poses.  Her feelings in her songs are too uniform to be faked.  At the end of the song when she begins to babble in a spoken word segment, releasing what seems to be her inner John S. Hall, she declares, “Thinking is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever come across, and not being able to articulate what I want to say drives me crazy.”  With that she proceeds to discuss swimming and walking her dog and how she likes “being alone,” and shouting, and being quiet, adding, “When I’m quiet, people just think I’m sad and usually I am.”  Again, this honesty is a true asset which makes Nash relatable and real.  I say this marks the album’s first true transition because during this spoken word segment, the guitars swell up, giving the track an extra-fuzzy backdrop, setting the mood-shift to a harder-edged bit of terrain. “I Just Love You More” begins with some guitar noise, before a nice chunky riff is banged out.  The song simply consists of Nash repeating the phrase, “I just love you more than anything,” and then doing some truly cathartic screaming.  Again, her skill at repeating phrases is evident.  This has been a skill she has developed since her last record, if you recall that album’s tedious opener, “Play.”  But this track has a Sonic Youth-esque sense of urgency as it rocks and churns.  “Do-Wah-Do” is like part two of “Kiss That Grrrl.”  It’s also the album’s main single. Again, it’s a sixties-pop fueled song with a slight surf-rock edge.  Again, she’s attacking and cutting down a woman whom men around her find attractive.  “Everyone thinks that girl’s a lady, but I don’t / I think that girl’s shady.”  It swells up into a pop wallop with a rocking edge and a reveling trumpet line.  It’s like a little two and a half minute party song about the mystery of appeal.  Nash ends the track by declaring, “I don’t know what you see. / There’s nothing there.”  This is a smart, old-school pop song, with a reliable hook.  It’s the kind of song that probably will be a hit in England, and should be a hit here but probably won’t.  It’s the kind of song American pop radio should be playing but doesn’t.  Nevertheless, it’s well worth a listen.  “Take Me To A Higher Plane” is again a fuzzy guitar driven pop song with rough edges. The violin gives it the feeling of an Irish-punk jig.  During the chorus, the guitars disappear to let Nash stand out in the center.  Again, it’s another strong track on an album consisting of nothing but high points.  “I’ve Got A Secret” is another game of repetition, this time repeating the lines, “I’ve got a secret I can’t tell you. / You would judge.”  Tempo shifts and layers of guitar keep things interesting. It turns out to be a song about lesbianism and homophobia when she asks, “Why can’t I kiss her lips?”   Within just a few words, Nash has created something much more poignant and authentic than anything Katy Perry ever did.  This song has bite.  It’s not all flash.   “Mansion Song” is the rawest track on the record.  If you are easily offended, HERE’S WHERE THE ALBUM REALLY EARNS ITS PARENTAL WARNING STICKER.  The spoken word beginning would make anyone blush.  Part Patti Smith, part Kathleen Hanna.  Reminiscent of the very graphic spoken word pieces Ursula Rucker used to do on the end of early albums by the Roots.  It’s about calling out women who allow themselves to be used and sexually degraded by men.  It’s a vibrant dose of “Riot Grrrl” fire. Nash yells, “Take a piece of raw vegetable and hold it to your breast and say that you stood for nothing.”  As the poem ends, the song part commences, a bang-y almost tribal dance, reminiscent of “Iko Iko,” with a fuzzy punked up vibe.  It sounds raw and spontaneous.  It sounds alive .Nash is experimenting in areas not imagined on her first record.    She really has a great deal of range.  This is brutal.  The punked portion of the record ends and we go into a second pop realm, with the hand-clap aided, “Early Christmas Present” in which Nash calls out a lover for cheating on her with another woman.  She’s also the last one to know. Again, it showcases a mixture of vulnerability and angst. “Later On” has Nash admitting “I kissed him just to get some information.  I used my body and his desperation.”  Then when her plan is uncovered she feels bad about hurting the feelings of her suitor.   “Later on, I’m crying my stupid eyes out.”  It’s another relatable scenario.  The realness makes Nash that much more likeable.  There’s a piece of video currently making the rounds on the web. An Australian comedy band called “The Axis of Awesome” claims that every popular song consists of the same four chords.  Nash’s next song, “Pickpocket” consists of these four chords played in an off-kilter fashion on a piano.  By this logic, this song should be a hit.  With a Regina Spektor-esque gentleness, Nash sings a very touching, building melody.  Her voice sounds so clear and sweet.  It’s hard to believe she’s the same woman who was cursing up a storm a few tracks ago.  “Understand me. Take me fully underground, where I cannot be found,” she pleads.  Her voice rings with tragic beauty.  Perhaps, “Pickpocket begins the album’s last phase of Kate Nash, the intimate singer-songwriter. This is continued with “You Were So Far Away,” which again recalls Liz Phair’s “Exile In Guyville”  The production is raw in the way that it feels like a bedroom recording.  There’s just an acoustic guitar, some atmospheric sound and Nash’s layered, whispered vocals.  Nash has studied her influences well but she has also inserted her own unique elements.   “I Hate Seagulls” begins as a list of strong dislikes and becomes a tender love song. Towards the end, Nash sings, “I like sleeping in your bed./  I like knowing what is going on inside your head. /  I like taking time. / And I like your mind. / And I like when your hand is mine.”  If you’ve ever just immediately understood what your partner is thinking and feeling, if you’ve ever felt one with someone that you love, you can identify completely with these sentiments.  Nash has hit a nerve. After a little silence, we get a secret track.  It turns out to be the title track.  It’s another raw, guitar-based “Guyville”-esque track.  Truth be told, it probably shouldn’t have been isolated from the rest of the record. It serves as an excellent, low-key ending. “My Best Friend Is You” is a very dense, rich record.  It should win Nash a lot of fans and acclaim.  This is the kind of record that helps build lasting songwriting legacies. It’s a record that deserves more attention.  Here, everything she tries overwhelmingly works.  It’s appealing and enjoyable, indeed. Given my opinion of her debut, this was not a record I was looking forward to hearing.  Much to my surprise, my new, current favorite album of the moment is this one! 

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