Kate Nash | Made of Bricks (Fiction/Polydor)

cd_kate-nash.jpgShe doesn’t sing about prostitutes or pushers; instead, she weaves intricate tales about crushes and teenage identity crises.

 

 

 

Kate Nash is a phenomenon. Or, more precisely, a MySpace-to-MTV phenomenon. Only 18 months after her parents bought her a guitar and GarageBand software as a consolation for not being admitted to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, she climbed to the top of the U.K. charts with a few infectious pop singles; those songs’ meteoric success accelerated the release date of her debut album Made of Bricks by two months.

This rapidfire ascent to stardom was due in part to the undeniable catchiness of her songs, which effuse enthusiasm and spunk, and Nash’s own charming yet snarky personality. But she was also helped by the goodwill of fellow British songstress Lily Allen, who placed Nash in her MySpace "Top 8" and thereby drew the attention of hordes of potential internet listeners. Sadly, it’s hard to get a coveted Top 8 spot without sparking some controversy.

The British press went to town on Nash, accusing her of being too untested, of employing a lower-class Cockney accent as a ruse, and of skirting by on Allen’s coattails by imitating her style.

Granted, Nash does sound remarkably similar to a handful of her contemporaries—Lily Allen, Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse, The Streets—but while these artists are known to engage in lyrically seedy subject areas and meld musical influences ranging from reggae to punk to grimy soul to hip-hop, Nash prefers to take a safer approach. She cures the purest pop elements coursing through these musical styles and creates a more accessible, mainstream sound. She doesn’t sing about prostitutes or pushers; instead, she weaves intricate tales about crushes and teenage identity crises.

The album starts out with "Play," a throwaway number that sounds like Cibo Matto jamming with Elastica, but quickly gives way to the lead single "Foundations." The song opens with a few choppy, elementary piano chords but builds with intensity as the story of her rocky relationship unfolds: bitter lemons, insults at dinner parties, vomited on "trainers" (Brit-speak for sneakers). On the verses, Nash sounds nervous and quiet and slightly peeved, but she really lets go on the chorus: "My fingertips are holding onto the cracks in our foundation/ I know that I should let go, but I can’t." This formula is played out on the comparable tracks "Mouthwash" and "We Get On," which demonstrate her knack for spouting excessive details on otherwise mundane subjects.

The rest of the album dips unevenly between pretty pop singles and hurried slop, like the repetitive "Dickhead" song. "Birds" is a gentle acoustic song built around a convoluted metaphor. "Mariella" sounds like Spektor at her most impertinent, while "Skeleton Song" reveals a more endearing Regina clone. "Pumpkin Song" is the most overproduced, radio-ready single of the album, and has nothing to do with pumpkins. The closer "Merry Happy" is slated to be the album’s fifth single, and the chorus flows like a laidback version of Winehouse’s "He Can Only Hold Her."

It’s hard to begrudge Nash just because she sounds like other musicians. She is what she is. She’s charming, playful, and decidedly British. She uses slang like "tart," "twat," and "bum"; she drinks cups of tea and eats cheese on her toast. This is her first album, and she’s merely asking that you like her. And if her MySpace is any indication, Kate Nash is a very likeable person. B | Todd McKenzie

RIYL: Lily Allen, Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse, The Streets

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