Album Review: Kate Nash – ‘My Best Friend Is You’ (Fiction/Polydor)

Not quite the riot grrrl makeover of rumour, but in trying on new styles, she’s found her own voice

Nigh on three years have breezed by since a certain 19-year-old shot up the charts with a whip-smart song about a relationship crumbling like make-up at the end of a long night. But our Gaga-dominated times feel like a world away from ‘Foundations’ and the time Kate and chum Lily Allen ruled the roost, with their thoroughly British kind of pop: no frills, just lyrics loaded with savage wit and a killer way with an interview to win over the kids.

Meanwhile, it seems Ms Nash has been cocooned away with an ever-expanding record collection to devour, emerging now as a rather wiser and more assured butterfly. Previewed early via her website, the Slits-ish ‘I Just Love You More’ pointed towards a radical, grungey makeover. It was something of a riot grrrl red herring, though – a chance to show off her new-found affection for the underground that permeates more in spirit than sound elsewhere on her second album. Rather than a cynical ploy to win over the left-field vote, in the album’s context it comes over more like the natural progression of a still-very-young lady gradually uncovering her musical heritage.

‘My Best Friend Is You’ sees Nash ratchet up the calibre of her melodies, now relying far more heavily on the power of a good chorus and less on incising turns of phrase to draw our attention. Thus, lead single ‘Do Wah Doo’ is a vibrant nugget of passive-aggressive pop nous. “Everyone thinks she’s a bit of alright/But I think that she’s not so nice,” trills our protagonist, coyly holding back the jealous pay-off until the closing seconds: “Well… I think she’s a bitch!” That song’s debt to the girl-group sound is a recurring theme, most assuredly executed on the spectacular ‘Kiss That Grrrl’ – an earthier cousin to the The Pipettes‘Pull Shapes’ – full of brass parps and twanging surf guitar.

Indeed, where her debut sounded absolutely of its time, a reflection of the insular world of one very astute teenager, ‘My Best Friend Is You’ is just as much in thrall to the past. A paean to her punk forebears, ‘Mansion Song’’s feminist beat poetry is a concise, contemporary update of Huggy Bear’s pioneering riot grrrl stew.

It’s plum stuff and Nash generally proves remarkably adept at co-opting her magpie’s nest of influences. Only in the final section do they overcome her own personality, with ‘Pickpocket’ a little too closely in debt to Regina Spektor and the admittedly pretty ‘You Were So Far Away’ filching the sparse, hushed tones of Cat Power. Largely, though, Nash sounds just like herself, and that’s exactly when she shines most brightly.

Tom Edwards

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Click here for your copy of Kate Nash’s ‘My Best Friend Is You’ from the Rough Trade shop

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