“Hope you enjoy our new direction!” In one of many perfectly observed scenes in This Is Spinal Tap, those six words viciously skewered every artist who wants to escape from the sound that made them famous. And while Kate Nash may hardly be embarking on a Tap-style Jazz Odyssey, her new direction has been much chewed over in the past few weeks.
She’s refused to play Foundations live, there’s been talk of influences from Riot Grrl to Sonic Youth and the inevitable sexist mutterings about her boyfriend, Ryan Jarman from The Cribs, dictating her new sound. And while there’s not enough here to scare any casual fans away, there’s definitely a more abrasive edge to My Best Friend Is You which takes some getting used to.
But in Bernard Butler Nash has found her dream producer. In what is quickly becoming his trademark sound, the former Suede guitarist frames Nash against a backdrop of sweeping strings and a Phil Spector-like wall of sound. It works beautifully on tracks like Do Wah Doo and Paris, while Take Me To A Higher Plane adds a country hoe-down to the mix.
It’s on songs like these that Nash is clearly in her comfort zone – yet she’s willing to step outside of this, with results of varying quality. Mansion Song is likely to be much talked about, if only for the 90-second spoken word introduction: an expletive laden rant about groupies, sex and cocaine, before exploding into a drum-heavy jam and unleashing a gut-busting scream that Black Francis would be proud of. It’s slightly awkward to listen to, if only to hear Nash bellow lines like “I can be fucked like the best of men”, but it certainly grabs you by the scruff of the neck.
I Just Love You More is similarly obtuse – basically Nash shouting the song’s title over and over again against a squall of wiry guitars and feedback while the last couple of minutes of Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt sound akin to someone having a nervous breakdown, as Nash’s vocals get ever more rapid-fire and frantic.
While these moments are to be welcomed, it’s when Nash does what she does best that the album really shines – joyful, life-affirming pop with a twist. Do Wah Doo could well be the most under-rated single of the year, blatantly stealing Regina Spektor‘s This Time for its introduction, employing a chorus that becomes ever more addictive with each listen and featuring lyrics that will either have you cooing with appreciation or cringing with embarrassment (“everyone thinks that girl’s a lady, but I don’t, I think that girl’s shady”).
Kiss That Grrl, Later On and Early Christmas Present are all similarly addictive, but the quieter moments work well too, including the touching I Hate Seagulls, which starts off as a list song of all the things that Nash hates, before slowly revealing itself as a declaration of love, while Pickpocket is just lovely – a fragile, hushed ballad with just piano for accompaniment. Only I’ve Got A Secret and lo-fi noodlings of You Were So Far Away seem rather half-formed afterthoughts that slow the album down a bit.
My Best Friend Is You hasn’t got the immediate freshness of Made Of Bricks, and it can make for a disorientating, uneven listen at times. Yet it’s never anything other than compelling and demonstrates that, despite what a lot of people thought when she first appeared, that Kate Nash could well be around for a good few years yet.