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Nadine Shah

Review: Nadine Shah – Filthy Underneath

“The band left hours ago, according to the work experience kid that I’m currently telling all my deepest darkest secrets to in a toilet cubicle.”

It feels beyond comprehension for one person to have gone through so much in such a short space of time. Grief, addiction, recovery, the breakdown of her marriage and an attempted suicide, but Nadine Shah, on her fifth album Filthy Underneath, continues her offering to skillyfully master bold, yet humorous storytelling, which although difficult to listen to at times, is neither glorifying nor crass, but profound and honest.

Throughout Filthy Underneath, Nadine pushes her extraordinary vocal abilities to new places, at times to complete abandon with tracks such as Topless Mother, a tense and unproductive counselling session culminating with a bellowing non-sequitur chorus of random words: “Sinatra, Viagra, Iguana!”,  whilst Greatest Dancer channels her most inner synth-goth dreams with Depeche Mode-style rhythmic drumming which perfectly complements her heightened vocal range. This collation of chaos and control feels like a reflection of her experiences in these last few years.  Greatest Dancer recounts the simple joys of watching ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ with her mother during lockdown with Nadine’s distinct Wearside accent swimming angelically on the chorus.

The pain of looking after and losing her terminally ill mother is a recurring moment Nadine is able to recount on several tracks – “I am holding a note for her” on the track See My Girl just one gutpunching example with more 80s synth-laden melodies.  There is vulnerability but a certain reserved power to which she sings.  

It isn’t all synth though. Backed by her long term collaborator, producer Ben Hillier, Nadine Shah goes to new sonic spaces on Filthy Underneath. Twitches and beeps and static electronic fuzz on opener Even Light, Sufi Qawwali-esque harmonies heard on Food for Fuel and psychedelic swirls on You Shoot, I Drive. It is, however, Sad-Lads Anonymous which encapsulates a new direction, and is fascinating both lyrically and in sound. In German, it is eloquently referred to as Sprechgesang – ‘speak-singing’. Over the top of some off kilter percussion and harmonies, Nadine paints more than just a diary confessional style song, a stream of consciousness that oozes self-deprecation, loathing for her seaside home town and acute reflections about herself and her world around her “This was a dumb idea, even for you”.

The closing track French Exit exists as the perfect and devastating embodiment of Nadine’s ability to express such personal and difficult subject matters.  The song explores her suicide attempt “Just a French exit/A quiet little way out/Nothing explicit,” she sings over a gentle, haunting rhythm. It forces us to genuinely reflect and contemplate her journey to this point and to appreciate such a deeply human and personal album that is dark and hopeful in equal parts.

Photo Credit – Tim Topple

4.0 rating
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