Kate Nash has released ‘Under-Estimate The Girl’, written, recorded and thrown-up in 24 hours. And the fall out has seen some serious irritation from all corners, with sneers that imply that Someone Like Kate Nash has absolutely no right to ‘go punk.’ It’s been described as “embarrassing”, “rich little girl… punk?” and “It sounds like four drunk people getting together and playing around on instruments at a house party.” Or, as it’s normally known – punk. In fact, it’s outpunked punk.
See, there was nothing punk about punk. It was, for all the world, the same as trad-rock, with posing men (and it was mainly men) with their trad.arr. rock ‘n’ roll instruments. ’77 punk leaned heavily on garage rock, which itself was a half-baked, badly executed clone of competent lad-rock bands like The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones, who were themselves, bad facsimiles of rhythm & blues. From the word go, punk was The Establishment. These days, punk breaks no rules, rather inventing a load of new ones that you MUST adhere to.
That’s why Kate Nash’s ‘Under-Estimate The Girl’ is the most one of the most punk records ever, and it’s brilliant for it. Going back to one of punk’s first hymns, Count V’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’, we heard a lousy band singing “I feel depressed, I feel so bad.” It’s one of the best-worst lyrics ever written. At the time, it was hugely derided by music snobs. It was crass, amateurish and apparently, of no value at all. The Stooges were tarred with the same brush. It wasn’t even proper rock music. It was opportunistic, attention-seeking and a threat to the prescribed notion of what music is supposed to be.
Fast forward to 2012, and here we have Kate Nash getting the same hassle, except she’s flouting punk’s rulebook. Punk is always supposed to threaten, embarrass and confuse people no longer in their teens. Punks gather round and tut, while the kids may well use Nash’s new record to reinvent themselves, pick up a guitar and start a noisy, angsty band. That’s punk.
And that’s not a slight on Nash’s obviously brilliant new record, either – and no, this isn’t an exercise in being contrary. Nash is the first big name over the trenches taking the slings and arrows for everyone else who will inevitably follow her. A pursuit, it’s worth pointing out, that saw L7, Babes In Toyland, Hole et al suffering the same level of mockery two decades ago.
The negative response to Nash’s new record just shows you how conservative you’ve all become. When Blur suddenly decided to go ‘punk’, hardly anyone brought up their pop past to say “These chancers can’t possibly mean it!” That’s because rock ‘n’ roll is still a man’s, man’s, man’s world. While the musos look at Nash’s new record like it’s sacrilege, all they’re managing to do is sound like Bob Harris when he sneered ‘mock rock’ at the New York Dolls.
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“Everybody play, play it so safe. No-one wanna mess, mess with the rules” sings Kate. And she’s right. Kate Nash has made a thrilling record that’s tantamount to career suicide. This song is in a line of great moments in pop when everyone’s jaws dropped and went ‘Huuuuh?!’ like the Monkees making ‘Head’, Lou Reed making ‘Metal Machine Music’ and Paul McCartney doing ‘Temporary Secretary’. This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been missing.