Nadine Shah has a long-established talent for articulating complex issues – often deeply political issues: on her 2017 release ‘Holiday Destination’, the musician dissected the refugee crisis, her own identity as a British Muslim, rampant gentrification and the sidelining of northern England (she’s from Tyneside) at the hands of cushty politicians down in Westminster. Best of all, she makes it sound effortless while drenched in unease; her voice underpinned by murky, shadowy post-punk.
In following up that Mercury-nominated third album, Shah has returned once more to writing the kinds of songs that she believes need to be written – and this time she turns her magnifying glass onto the multitude of expectations around womanhood, and growing older. “It’s something women have to think about all the time,” she told The Guardian, “but you never hear songs about it.”
In a sense this record is about the aching, impossible desire to experience everything but the kitchen sink – as the expression goes – in life at once; it’s about loathing the constraints of traditions such as marriage and being fiercely drawn towards them at the same time. It speaks to the sensation of flicking through social media as you grow older, absentmindedly noticing that an old schoolmate now has two children and a semi-detached house and feeling mildly envious; or gradually realising that you have evolved into the sort of person who mothers houseplants and frequents local forums with a little too much enthusiasm.
It’s about the feeling of dread that occurs when a well-meaning but low-key sexist relative enquires about why you won’t hurry up and ‘get hitched already’, or the feeling of swiping through Tinder while your coupled-up mates book in house viewings. On ‘Kitchen Sink’ none of these modes of existence are held up as superior to one another. “Stop your counting of years / Stop the wracking your mind / Stop your fuelling of fears,” Shah sings on ‘Dillydally’, “You’re divine”.
Society does a roaring trade in pitting women against each other (just pick up any gossip magazine for proof) and Nadine Shah has previously said that the temptation to focus on what she doesn’t have was playing on her mind as she wrote ‘Kitchen Sink’. “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,” she wrote in a statement, “completely disgracing my own relationships and career”.
‘Kitchen Sink’ sees Nadine Shah take a playful approach, trying on multiple roles in quick succession. On the sauntering title-track – which prowls along like a smouldering Arctic Monkeys anthem gone rogue and percussive – her protagonist is unbothered and lives out of a suitcase: “Forget about the curtain twitchers,” she advises, pondering some anonymous nosey neighbours, “gossiping boring bunch of bitches”. ‘Ukrainian Wine’ finds a different character necking eastern European booze out of a tea-cup atop swaggering, cyclical guitar, and gleefully spending their parents’ money: “Pretty please daddy,” she smirks, “Pretty please mummy.” And on the fidgeting ‘Trad’, Shah’s vocal is at its most expansive and powerful, skewering every unwanted cliche about ‘ticking body clocks’ in a single razor-sharp couplet. “Shave my legs / Freeze my eggs” she booms, “will you want me when I am old?”
And despite a recurring fixation on forked roads and untrodden paths, ‘Kitchen Sink’ is ultimately rooted in the vague flicker of hopefulness and compassion that Shah embodies so often, and so skilfully; though it dispels the myth that it’s possible to be the woman who truly has it all, she embraces choice, rewriting narratives and multitudes instead.
Release date: June 26
Record label: Infectious Music