Love Your Dum And Mad, the debut album by north east born, London based artist Nadine Shah is highly anticipated. Over the past year, Shah has emerged with a collection of dark hearted and dramatic songs that see her exploring intensely personal themes with a broody flourish. Following two well received and acclaimed EPs, the debut album encompasses all the beguiling facets of Shah’s character into one bewitching and deeply alluring whole.
Shah’s background is diverse. Her ancestry is both Norwegian and Pakistani while she grew up in the north east town of Whitburn. Perhaps it is those days spent in the north east that informed Dreary Tow, the first song which Shah wrote, and which is included here. It provides a fair introduction to her sound, one of such intensity and passion that you can feel every sinew of emotion. Her tremendously expressive voice quivers and trembles as she delivers the lines. The desire to escape as conveyed here aligns with the album’s unconventional approach: “I’m not going to follow you to the ground. Darling, I’m leaving this dreary town.”
Shah’s gift is as a songwriter and storyteller capable of conjuring up images and characters with seeming ease. These characters always fit the tone of the music,which can flit from subdued and experimental, as on the lazily jazzy Playful, or harsh and enveloping, as featured on Runaway’s pounding dirge rock. There is a multi-faceted quality to Shah’s work. Honed by established producer Ben Hillier (Blur, The Horrors) not a note or sound sounds out of step; the album sounds excellent throughout.
Running throughout Love Your Dum And Mad (named after the title of a painting by Matthew Stephens-Scott, a later friend of Shah) is a sinister brooding menace that rises and swells depending on the song. On the opening Aching Bones, it is incredibly harsh. Here, the piano is clanging and the bass relentless. It’s almost Portishead-like in its enveloping industrial gloom. Shah’s strong voice rises gallantly above the trembling clangour. Elsewhere, there are rather more subtle but no less effective pieces. All I Want is sparse and electronic led. Space is given to allow Shah’s voice to stretch out gloriously; intense meaning is to be found in every syllable.
Shah’s own influences take in early Nick Cave, while in its dramatic grandeur the album is reminiscent of PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love. While these are immediate touchstones, Shah’s own influences run much deeper. There is a strong desire to combine old style jazz flourishes with a very dark and contemporary industrial clang. The songs themselves pit intense emotional reflection with fantastical dark and poetic imagery. A song like the warped tango of The Devil expertly crosses the boundaries between the two.
There is a refreshing honesty in Shah’s approach both musically and lyrically. She describes many of the songs as dealing with people suffering from mental health issues. There is no attempt to mask any feelings or emotions and the subject matter is covered with a piercing honesty and openness. Love Your Dum And Mad is certainly not an easy listen and demands close attention. But give yourself over to the close, fascinating world Shah inhabits and you will be utterly enthralled.