Album Reviews

Nadine Shah – Filthy Underneath

(EMI North) UK release date: 23 February 2024

This early contender for album of the year is more conceptually consistent, more musically accomplished, more of pretty much everything that she’s ever done before

Nadine Shah - Filthy Underneath Nadine Shah, purveyor of fine musical goods since 2013, has thankfully returned to grace us with her best product to date, Filthy Underneath. In the gap between her last (and previously best) record, 2020’s Kitchen Sink, she’s been through a whirlwind of a time that encompassed immense personal success (including an arena tour with Depeche Mode) and severe strife, and one imagines navigating through a global pandemic can’t have helped. There’s already plenty of copy out there about the specifically harrowing ordeal Nadine went through in one respect, but it doesn’t do to dwell on that – this is an album of celebration.

Not that you’d especially know that from the music, of course, which remains customarily caustic and comforting in almost equal measure. The righteous fury she brought to Trad, Ladies for Babies (Goats for Love), Buckfast and Holiday Destination is still here on Filthy Underneath, but it’s deeper, and richer, with a wisdom bestowed only by time and maturity (and pain).

Even Light opens the record with Shah’s distinctively gloomy, always funky post-punk stylings. A rolling bass line and some saucy brass accompany an insistent percussive drive. Topless Mother, which follows, is Shah’s finest song. It’s thunderous and relentless and elegant and has the silliest, most cathartic chorus you’ll hear in a long time, full of free-association word vomit that seems both wrong and yet utterly right.

The understated bass groove of Food For Fuel dances on top of a restrained drum pattern and squalling drones, while Nadine unleashes a fierce vocal arrangement above it all. You Drive, I Shoot turns in a Can/mutant hip hop hybrid that’s as threatening as it is mystifying.

Keeping Score is completely the opposite – a massive, widescreen goth ballad that seems to have been plucked out of a lost ’80s horror flick. There’s something strangely familiar about Sad Lads Anonymous, too – which makes it disorienting and enthralling in equal measure. Shah’s spoken word vocalisations are just as mesmerising as the metallic (in an elemental sense, not Heavy Metal) guitar leads that follow and then wrap around them.

The ‘Burundi beat’ post-punk posturing of Greatest Dancer threaten glam rock, or at least glam punk, but end up as something altogether stranger. See My Girl and Hyperrealism both go back to same well as Keeping Score, in the sense that they draw on a retro (’80s) aesthetic, but with a thoroughly modern sensibility – much like the kind of song you’d find on Angel Olsen’s similarly breathtaking All Mirrors album.

If you’ve been following Nadine’s career, you can’t help but be impressed by her sheer knack for knocking out one fantastic album after another – but this one really takes the proverbial cake. It’s more conceptually consistent, more musically accomplished, more of pretty much everything that she’s ever done before – and what she was already doing was verging on masterly. Filthy Underneath is already a contender for Album of the Year, and it will take something truly exceptional to beat it.

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More on Nadine Shah
Nadine Shah – Filthy Underneath
Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink
Nadine Shah @ Moth Club, London
Nadine Shah @ Union Chapel, London
Nadine Shah @ Oslo, London