Did Kylie make Uncut's top 100 albums of all time, just ahead of Shola Ama and Natalie Imbruglia? Nope, noooo, and nah; but they didn't half release some undeniably corking tunes. Did the Spice Girls make great albums? Excluding 'The Best Of', of course not – the five-piece were a phenomena rooted in a very specific time, and now, with her singles tinkling the chimes in the upper echelons of the charts, a question must be asked of Kate Nash: is she in the same populous-bothering league as the Spices, or a mainstream singer-songwriter with a degree of credibility amongst the more discerning factions of her wide demographic? Before we tear Made Of Bricks apart, let's pause and use our endless web space for a quick bitta'h context.
In the beginning – let’s call it the Beta Age – the internet was a rather elitist place full of bespectacled geeks in ICQ t-shirts downloading from Weezer.net, accountants getting deleted Dylan catalogue items and sticking personally recommended Mogwai albums onto their orders to ensure free delivery from Amazon. And there were, of course, Metallica fans with bad facial hair downloading Tool, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit on dial-up from Napster/Audiogalaxy at the rate of one song every two hours. Then the early adopter hipsters hopped aboard the Great White iShark: Jonathan Fire*Eater, who no-one had really heard (of), split up, and then, as if from nowhere, along came The Strokes. People grew white boy 'fros, dreamed of living in Williamsburg, and bought leather jackets and vintage drainpipes from eBay.
Planes crashed. Broadband arrived. Tides turned.
Then we realised these retro-rock bands stumbling over from New Zealand and Detroit had rank skin and albums which stunk of birds rotting in oil spills. Then came the Forum Years, with the kids sharing MP3s, flyers and things on Libertines.org or posting Arctic Monkeys YouSendit links on the DiS boards. We then all tried Friendster and befriended Har Mar Superstar, but it was sluggish and sorta useless, so we got MySpaces (let's call this bit the MySpace Age) and had Outkast or Bright Eyes playing on our profile pages, learnt how to do ♥ and we put Tom and Tila Tequila in our top friends. It was a happy place out there on this brave new twilit frontier, being linked up to global network of like minds, and when someone finally hollered ‘Glocalism’ we all sorta got what they meant. Then YouTube gave us You've Been Framed at all hours of the day and we could watch dogs hump teddies or ASBO kids setting fire to each other. They called it Web 2.0. Genius. The second generation, after the first didn't really warrant a one or a zero at the time.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us all who were busy watching American television (Family Guy, mostly) and movie premieres filmed on video cameras in cinemas with silhouettes of people standing up which we half-inched from BitTorrent, there was also a whole reality TV thing going on. From what we could figure it was something where people sat in a house arguing, a bit like the Playboy Mansion webcams, just without sexy results but always the allusion if you sat up all night. the cute Welsh girl or guy might slip outta her or his vest. There was also X-Factor, and another one, which glancing from our flickering blue screens we assumed was just more orange-skinned ‘hopefuls’ on Stars In Their Eyes or Blind Date, but we switched to the BBC and they had the same thing, albeit called Fame Academy - why didn't these shows come up in my Pitchfork RSS newsfeed?, we wondered, feeling a smidgen outta touch, before calming ourselves with a quick Google before watching the final episodes of 24 being filmed before the first one had even been on terrestrial. Anyway, this pop TV malarkey meant anyone could walk in, sing a bit and, a few weeks later, have a Number 1 single for a week before scampering off into a cloud of coke and into the arms of wolves and vultures at something called Heat. All the while, people – average people, not unlike you and me but with better posture – were getting a bit sick of it, thinking they could do better, switching off their telly-boxes and either becoming the new Test-Icicles or at least hunting for the next Arctic Monkeys, as they really rather liked that album. Although, to be fair, most of them/us just ended up streaming anything mentioned by Seth Cohen.
Then came a crack in this blue-sky utopia of ours as the floodgates opened and the kids who once mocked us joined us. Thusly, tons of crap was uploaded and suddenly our secret Atlantis was exposed. Before we knew it there was an un-tipping point and the water above (aka: The Mainstream) became ankle deep as the world flattened and anyone could splash around in it. We could swim no more, everything was so fractured.
Then, suddenly, as if from nowhere, Lily Allen popped up and made us all think maybe this whole ‘us and them’ gap wasn't such a canyon after all. And now here we are: the lines between Popstars: The Rivals and The Feeling are blurred. We were lost and confused not unlike Westside Story trying to be Romeo and Juliet. We discovered that for quite a while there was no Actual Music on MTV, and that the miming puppets on terrestrial TV had gone. How strange. We loved and lost Simon Amstell, whose job it was to tell what was real whilst making us snigger. Everyone could have their Warholian 15 minutes/seconds of fame: the karaoke star battled those of ‘authentic’ backgrounds, and these parallel worlds collided jut like Malcolm McClaren feared. Elsewhere, a war raged.
Which brings us up to speed and back to Kate Nash. (Still with us?) She put her tracks up on MySpace, full of hope. She got lucky: Lily top-8’ed her and the girl got some music biz buzz, then graced the pages of Observer Music Monthly, then signed and went into the studio to make her debut album Made Of Bricks, which was so eagerly anticipated they dragged the release date forward a whole two months. So: this is it and without further ado, let's rush in...
The album's littered with familiar "uh-ohs" and there's a bit on 'Mariella' with a line about "gluing yer lips togeva" that's charmingly Regina-ish with hand-claps and everyfink. 'Mouthwash' is the one where Kate flashes her hand, especially the way the piano hiccup starts exactly like Spektor’s 'Us'. The lyrics, howeva, are ever so far from the mythical magic of orca whales and, well, just end up being plain old suburban English ("I've got a family and I drink cups of tea..."). This semi-pillaging, semi-tribute-ing, trans(Atlantic)lating is nowt new. Don't get me wrong: she's as much 'borrowing' as Cliff did from Elvis and Buddy, who in turn stole from a slew of black geniuses you’ve probably never heard of. Shut it and face up to the fact that the trailblazers rarely get the glory, but they do inspire and prime the taste-buds of the doorkeepers (i.e. the media), ready for a juggernaut to steal their thunder.
In this day'n age, hype and hits are not really enough, as the other 99 per cent of the population not 'on it', not in her 75,000 friends, not contributing to the democratically redundant UK Charts – where 25,000 single buyers out of 64 million-odd people decide what's a success, which perpetuates and misdirects the rest of the masses. She's got an awful long way to go, and the proof will always be in the proverbial pudding. Doubters: skip straight to the end, as you're in for a surprise. 'Merry Happy' sounds gigantic, like a generation’s worth of blogs’ best sweet-nothings. It’s all eating cheese on toast and dancing in discos, chopped up, with an undeniable hook that really deserves some respect. It's her ability to feel so closely linked to you that's what resonates – she’s not just your friend on MySpace; she's right (t)here, in your ear, giving you those Dazed & Confused keg party goose-bumps, “sitting in restaurants, thinking we were so grown up.”
On the certifiable hit ‘Foundations’ she threatens: "I'll use that voyce that you fin' annoy'n...". We've grown to like the single in the same way Kylie's 'Spinning Around' was annoying at first but, please: don't do Mockney, m'lady! We asked nicely, see. Now, enunciate! Thank you.
Thankfully, Nash has not included the instantly gut-curdling, mock-grime debut single 'Caroline's A Victim' (kkkrrrrringe!), which now seems even more like a red herring when you note its follow-up coasted its sweet way under Rhianna's 'Umbrella' without barely a thimble-full of help from daytime Radio 1 or even the trinket-bashers slot on any of the big prime-time TV shows. The following week, a super-hushed whoopsie-daisy acted as an acknowledgment of the triumph this new people power, and she's on GMTV, lobbed on all the playlists and shafted up festival billings, seemingly taking the non-believers in the media by complete surprise. She has, without the PR misdirection of previous MySpace bands (Arctic Monkeys didn’t even have a MySpace, etc), perhaps become the first true Web 2.0 artist of note, which makes this one of the year's most significant albums. Shame then, that as an album it's not too good but it does have some great tunes, which begs the question in the age of iTunes, is the album format obsolete and is this another sign of the times?
The album's proper (propah?) clunker is 'We Got On', a bad diary/blog entry over a cringe-worthy girl-band Pipettes-esque TOTP-doo-wop-Pop backing track. It's just a whinge with no hope. Hang on a moment, though, as there might be a new low: "Stop being a dickhead / what ya being a dickhead for...?" repeats ‘til fade on the aptly titled ‘Dickhead’. Oh wait, here’s another. Sophie Ellis Bextor beware: 'Pumpkin Soup', with its bloated brass and "I just want your kiss, boy [bwoy, bwoy]", sounds quite like something left off Victoria Beckham's last gashbag of a solo album. One second, hold fire: there's actually one that’s even worse called 'Shit Song', with horrid base-level GarageBand loops. It begins with an 'accidentally' left in Fugees "oooh lala" and just yeah, whatever. Skip. Skip. Hop. Skiiiiip!
It's certainly not all utter crap, more a bit of a shit sarnie. She's got a great voice cobbled with sentimentality, and her lyrical twists do make you feel nostalgic for the greys of Grange Hill. It's on 'Nicest Thing', right toward the end of the album (the penultimate track, if you like), where Kate shows what's so special about her. The strings are gorgeous, and her lyrics simple, poignant and honest beyond belief. The plucking of the acoustic bass crouches in moonlight beneath it all in such a way that all is, temporarily, forgiven, and her meteoric rise makes perfect sense. Seriously. It's a real tear-duct haunter of genuine ache, and the way her voice croaks and willows over the acoustic bassline is just... ahhhh. It makes me want to believe she isn’t a pretender, and could in fact be the new Elton John or something. Is she just playing us for a nation of fools? (She did, after all, originally want to train as an actress – Ed) To be fair, look around you: it's all chip shop brawlers and people who think Mark Ronson is a genuinely talented songwriter. Ye of faith in humanity, she’s got your number.
Two years on from being just another monkey at a keyboard, uploading another song onto the infinite reservoir of shit that is MySpace, here we are. Things haven't really moved mountains musically but the gal’s been busy accepting friends ever since. Essentially, Made Of Bricks is comprised of a lot of below-par b-sides, three pretty special tracks and then bunch of ‘nice tries’… but don't expect anyone to be whistling them in three months’ time. If it's all a stage school act, then maybe she's a genius teasing us; maybe this is a modern way to beat First Album Syndrome by bedding in with a low barrier (like Regina’s, Conor’s and Joanna’s early outings), adding an air of unpredictability with regard to what may follow. Maybe she’ll follow it up real quick. If she's just an honest 19-year-old gal from Harrow wiv an elpee fulla fillah an' nostalgah, coming of age before our eyes, then so be it. Either way, she's shining like a star for now, a symptom and symbol – an icon, even – of the 2.0 generation, with all her interests neatly starred, underlined and struck-through. Nothing too serious, nowt too laboured over; another ‘could do better’ to add to her pin board. Predictably, Nash has presented nothing revolutionary nor boundary bending, but then we already knew nothing – not even the race for this to be one of the biggest selling albums of the year – would change because of the actual quality of this pop record. The again, what can really be expected from a bedroom phenomenon? At least she’s not Jyoti Mishra…
As you were, then.
4Sean Adams's Score