Nadine Shah: 'Dreary Town' - Track Review

'Dreary Town' -Track Review




With a mixed heritage of Pakistani and Norwegian, it is hard what to expect from Nadine's voice. Expect to be blown away...



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The title of the song may evocative grey nothingness; but don't be fooled...


Because the song itself is nothing short of astonishing. It is a blend of hypnotic vocals, stirring musical accompaniment, and the lyrics: personal and heart-rending.


I must admit, that I had not heard much about Nadine Shah before last week. I happened upon her interview conducted with The Line of Best Fit back in November, and was immediately intrigued. After listening to her E.P. 'Aching Bones', I was instantly blow away. Not just by her physical beauty, but by her enchanting voice and honesty and openness, and a vast majority that supersceeds her handful of years on the planet. Delving further into the aforementioned interview, she refutes claims that she is influenced by Nick Cave and P.J. Harvey, explaining 'the one person who really inspired me personally was Scott Walker'. Nadine went onto explain that she wanted to make it (Aching Bones) sound 'industrial'. This comes through as well on 'Dreary Town'. She pointed it that a lot of her songs aren't personal, and she has quite a blue-collar approach to songwriter. Like me, she suffers from anxiety, which similarly affects her ebb and flow.


The life of a solo artist is a curious one, especially if you are a female. Within the mainstream there are such diversity of quality. Take Adele for instance- rightfully heralded as a key figure. But for every artist like her comes such landfill-dwellers as Ke$ha, Katy Perry and Cher Lloyd. Emeli Sandé is near the forefront, but to my mind subject to the hyperbole and hype machine of many music publications. Her voice is impressive, but to my mind there is nothing about her that grabs you, drops you to your knees, and compels you to let people know what you have just heard. If you want to experience that sort of visceral reaction, you have to dig deep. You shouldn't, but you do. Although I guess the good thing about that is, you feel special. Like you've discovered something untainted by the messianic pomp of the tabloids. Nadine Shah has more in common with Jessie Ware and Laura Marling. Great young female songwriters, who can brilliantly write and sing, and care not for ephemera and soulless celebrity.


Returning to the vocal comparison well, what strikes me is how much she doesn't sound like anyone else. There are hints of Florence Welch (when she calms down and stops wailing incessantly); hints of Shara Worden, but generally, incomparable. 'Dreary Town' begins with almost arpeggio-like piano. It is romantic, brooding, still and scene-setting all at once. Your mind is transported to an empty street, the rain, a few streetlights and closed curtains. You stand alone, looking around and wait for the morning to come. After the brief introduction, Shah's vocals arrive to lead you off. It is a progeny of the greatest female singers of all time. Impossible to psychoanalyse, or to unravel. Her voice is soothing, romantic and without fan-fair. Throughout the song, she is backed by that magisterial piano line. And like Street Spirit (Fade Out) was elevated by guitar, the music achieves a similar distinction for 'Dreary Town'. As Nadine sings 'Darling, I'm leaving', the emotion breaks through. Her voice dips and glides. It draws you in, gives you a hug and places it's head on your shoulder. It is quite a beguiling effect. Nadine's E.P. was produced by Ben Hillier, who produced Nadine's favourite Blur album 'Think Tank' (personally I'd plump for '13'- I'm odd like that). I can hear that influence in the production and music. It has a sparsity that allows the lyrics and vocal to shine through and take effect. Caravan, Battery In Your Leg, and Out of Time are the best examples I can give when thinking of Think Tank. 'Dreary Town' has a waltz feel to it, and you can well imagine the song scoring a '40s film; the heroine leaving on a train to a land unknown, the cigarette-smoking hero looking wistfully on, the wind blowing the smoke into his face. Towards the 3:00 mark, Shah's vocal contorts into an anguished cry; what would happen if ever Ephialites put his heartache to words. It is an alarming vocal sea-change. It takes you by surprise and contorts your soul. There are shades of Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There is a sense of sermonising in its wordlessness, and regret and when Shah sings: 'I'm not going to follow', there is an audible lip quiver. Although her voice is incomparable, there is a little bit of Antony Hegarty within the latter stages. Just when you are dewy-eyed with compassion, the voice fades and the piano is in the spotlight once more. The daylight arrives as we walk into the sunrise; our heroine has her cheek pressed against the train window, and our hero holds a black and white photograph of the love he's lost.


I would be uncertain to say where Shah fits in, in terms of attempting a gradation amongst her peers. She is so far ahead of most of her contemporaries in most respects. I guess she shares many similarities with Jessie Ware in terms of her approach, her mannerism and music but her achievements are greater, even than hers. It is a faulty syllogism to say that the higher up the charts you are the better you are. She should not concern herself with such trivialities. If 'Dreary Town', is anything to go by, she will be acquiring a legion of new fans, myself included. As a songwriter myself, she has inspired a great deal in my right now. Not just as an artist but as a person. In interviews she is open about her anxiety, how important it is to talk about mental illness- not to simply ignore it or speak of it in hushed abstractions. For someone similarly afflicted and at times, alone, hearing her music and her words has made me feel less isolated and unworthy; I hope my candour and appropriation of her music, is suitable reciprocity. 'Dreary Town' is a song to cherish, to study and to be inspired by. Do not thing of it as a bleak tableau or lost love and depression; more of a tale of a young woman opening her heart and soul. She is someone I would kill to collaborate with in the future!


Nadine is releasing her debut album, the gloriously-titled spoonerism 'Love Your Dum and Mad'. She explains: "the first five songs are with a full band"; perhaps adding credence to her childhood ambitions of becoming a jazz singer. She goes to explain that some of the tracks will also have a personal relevance. Do not expect a 'Pink Moon'-style album. Judging from her previous work, there will be light as well as dark. It is impossible to know exactly what is to come on the album, but I cannot wait. Maybe a dissertation on love and longing; possibly a dissection of modern culture- who knows. In the meantime, I implore you to listen to 'Dreary Town', and then go back and absorb 'Aching Bones'. The song is phenomenal and will be pressed against my heart for a time to come. In the words of Blur's 'Sweet Song'': "You switch off and try to sleep/people get so lonely". Nadine Shah is gorgeous, humble, open and possessed of a golden voice of song. Turn an upside down smile upside down...

... and find out why.




All quotes in this review are taken from