Music Reviews
Kitchen Sink

Nadine Shah Kitchen Sink

(Infectious Music) Rating - 7/10

Rather appropriately, it appears Nadine Shah has also started working from home. Her fourth album, and follow-up to the Mercury Prize-nominated Holiday Destination, sees the singer-songwriter retreat from discussing global politics to telling stories about domestic unrest. Holiday Destination was a righteous attack on the inaction during the refugee crisis, which felt urgent and immediate in both its lyrics and music—you could even dance to a song like Place Like This or Ordinary

Kitchen Sink is very much the opposite, a slow-burning but equally pointed album that bemoans and chastises gendered politics. It has also been described as the album Shah has been waiting to make—a cliche that’s as dated as the institution of marriage in itself—but rings true. It allows the songwriter to be just as political, just as angry, but more mischievous and troublesome. Often, this album is the sound of deciding whether to go to bed on argument or just hash it out. Shah almost always chooses the latter. There’s the booming Buckfast, the album’s highlight, which is a retelling of a toxic relationship. The man is a self-indulgent, gaslighting drunk that, while the narrator treats him with utter contempt, relishes being able to “lord it over” the next morning. 

There are also stories of women in loveless relationships, pressed by the fear that the clock is ticking if they were to leave. Ladies for Babies (Goats for Love) decries the men who need to be seen with a woman, but who he will never really love: “He wants his lady, to be a lady, to care less, be hairless. All he wants in fairness, is a baby care for, be there for"). Over an unforgiving drum beat, an urgency creeps up to meet society’s standards (“Shave my legs, Freeze my eggs, Will you want me when I am old?”). Even when the beat lets up, Shah’s voice creates a haunting chorus, suggesting the fear isn’t missing out on the well-worn path but that she passively will end up going down it anyway.

There are also the microaggressions that are even more apparent. On the title track, she refers to the “gossipping boring bunch of bitches” who enjoy nothing more than curtain-twitching and casual racism. She strides away from a sleazy man who calls her a cougar for being a year older on Club Cougar, pointing out the contradiction with older men not thinking anything of a significantly younger wife. While on Walk, the fuzzy brass is a disorientating soundtrack to dodging the advances of men on a late-night walk, as she blurts “I don’t want your love, I just want a walk”. Besides Walk, the album slows into the second half. Kite is a sparse and submerged in echo, while Ukrainian Wine feels appropriately luxurious as an ode to a character gleefully spending their parent’s cash. These songs are impressive but feel lost in the shadow of an album front-loaded with the singles.

It may not come across as immediately ambitious as her previous work, but there are no tricks or gimmicks that create this intimacy; it’s just clever production and writing that never outstays its welcome. She embraces the complexity of each character, and as bad as the situation is, she often finds a way to root for them rather than pity. Sometimes it’s frustrating, as Shah opts to repeat herself in lieu of another verse, but it's a better option than reaching to shoehorn in a clever line. The bleak and overriding conclusion that Kitchen Sink offers is that even if you acknowledge, despise, and refute every expectation you’re given there’s still no real alternative. Instead, Shah offers the hardened wisdom of an old friend (“I wasted time with paranoia, don’t let an ugly thought destroy you”), and delivers it with enough confidence to persuade you to keep going on your own too. There’s solidarity in knowing that even as she walks through an alley of glaring eyes, Shah will remain completely at peace: “I just let them pass me by.”