Album Review: Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink

Kitchen Sink follows up Nadine Shah’s Mercury Prize nominated 2017 album Holiday Destination which received  critical acclaim including AIM Awards ‘Independent Album of the Year’, a #7 ‘Album of the Year’ from BBC 6 Music, #5 from The Quietus and more.

Shah has always written important songs. With Holiday Destination she sang about the refugee crisis, her own identity as a British Muslim, and the tough northern life. However on Kitchen Sink she uses that same ferocious determination and distinct voice Shah now turns her sights closer to home with an album that explores her own story as a woman in her 30’s and the societal pressures and expectations that come with that.

“It started as a diary of sorts” explains Shah, “I’m 34 now. It feels like every time I go on any sort of social media another friend has gotten married or had a baby. Then I’d find myself in that caustic space of comparing my own life to theirs and feeling like a failure for not having had achieved what they had, completely disgracing my own relationships and career”. This then developed into a conversation Shah kept having with friends in their 30s and 40s where she’d hear different versions of the same story.

“I ended with a collection of stories; women who have had children, women who want to have children and can’t physically, women who can physically but choose not to, all different scenarios”, Shah says. “There’s that panic that so many of us have that we are running out of time, when it comes to having children. It’s like when we were younger we all made our own        imagined lives in our minds of when we thought we would do certain things. If you were to tell 14 year old me I’d be 34, unmarried and have no children I’d have never believed it. Lots of my friends I’ve spoken to did this very same thing.”

Straight away this album is pure Shah. Club Cougar opens with those anthemic saxophone playing a kind of football jingle as Shah tackles being a older woman in society and thought of as a Cougar on the prowl. “Think I adore ya” when really “your conversation bores me”

The rabid percussive playing on ‘Ladies For Babies (Goats for Love)’ finds Shah in a seductive voice as she tackles the male viewpoint on what females are for. This time she becomes as the title hints a sidelined lady who’s only their for babies.

‘Buckfest’ Letting her voice soar a little more as she tackles the one minded drunkenness. The music tumbles about her in stop start ramble of drums and stings mimicking her in the chorus with the drawn out notes then coutnertring her smokey voice with harsh blasts of the horns.

‘Dillydally’ a cracking bass line leads the way for that wonderfully smoke tint Shah can add to her voice. The song is flavoured with some picked and palm muted guitar and penny whistle.

First track to really stand out for me is ‘Trad’ It picks up the speed as Shah contemplates getting old and still being attractive and wanted “Shave my legs. Freeze my eggs,” “Do as I am Told” Her double take vocals half way through is my favourite moment on this record before breaking away and letting the music take over.

Continuing the more rock section of the album, ‘Kitchen Sink’ is a harsh bass led attack on the neighbours Shah “Curtain Twitches” and “Bitches”. Theres a agitated guitar solo to go with the bitterness in her voice as she flirts with xenophobia and having a strange face. These are the songs Shah wants to write and we need to hear.

‘Kite’ is a meditation with eastern guitar and spectral hummed theme. A pause for the album and a real focus point on her musical talent. The gothic piano to close this track is simply and beautiful.

‘Ukrainian Wine’ strummed guitar is Shah living up to the PJ Harvey comparisons and sounded comfortable in her music.

‘Wasps Nest’ “You are scared and I am angry” is Shah focusing on the angry side of her character muted percussion and with keyboard to add some colour shows the depth of Shahs music ability to not be pinned down

‘Walk’ dragged out vocals over fan fare horns about getting away and “just wanting to Walk” The fairground carries over into ‘Prayer Matt’ with the swooping musical moans and swirling syths. Nadine steps away and lets the music close the track and album out.

Shah’s ability to narrate and sum up modern life as a female, in her thirties, in the uk, muslim, is her strength. “The characterful voices you can hear from song to song, I’m able to flex my vocal a lot more” The music often takes a back seat to her vocals. Tracks like ‘Trad’ and ‘Kite’ let you see what a talented songwriter she is.

There are so many of these things that we don’t even think about that are ingrained in us and reinforce inequalities in our society. Shah is determined to fill the gaping hole in music that addresses this. Lead single ‘Ladies For Babies (Goats For Love)’ for example is a response to ‘All That She Wants’ by Ace of Base.

Kitchen Sink was made once more in collaboration with Ben Hillier in his Agricultural Audio Studio and is influenced by more than just old crooners. Shah says, “I went into Ben’s studio with my demos and even without having any conversation with him about where I saw the album sonically going, he had the exact same thoughts as me”.

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