Nadine Shah – Filthy Underneath review: a portrait of vulnerability from an artist who has earned her stripes

Nadine Shah promotes new album Filthy Underneath

Review

Rating
8.5/10
Rating
8.5/10

Where do we find Nadine Shah in 2024? In the four years since her last studio effort (2020’s superb Kitchen Sink), the songwriter has relocated to the newly formed EMI North for new LP Filthy Underneath: a deep and personal dive into what has been a somewhat traumatic time for the Tyneside artist

Trauma and personal growth aren’t alien themes to Shah. Her debut (2013’s Love Your Dum and Mad) was borne from the grief of losing two close friends and Kitchen Sink details the sexist tropes and worn-out misogyny that comes with being a woman in her thirties, but Filthy Underneath is her most personal offering yet, with many of the cuts baring Shah’s soul.

Following the 2020 lockdown and a swathe of cancelled shows, Nadine Shah lost her mother to cancer, her marriage broke down, she survived a suicide attempt and checked into rehab to address subsequent substance abuse issues. The themes on this record are heavy, but this glimpse into Shah’s vulnerabilities is done with a deft touch: she conveys sheer grief and wrought anxiety through melody quite brilliantly. The opener, ‘Even Light’ is an anxious, swirling number, where tumultuous synths cut with pounding percussion: her Northeastern croon is swapped for some glorious harmonies at parts to make for a brilliant overture of this record.

‘Topless Mother’, Filthy Underneath‘s lead single, is an absolute anthem with driving drums and bass complementing her soaring vocals beautifully. The seemingly nonsensical chorus is wonderful, “Sinatra, Viagra, Iguana…Sharia, Diana,Samosa”: the term earworm doesn’t do it justice, and the juxtaposition with the musicality and rest of the lyrical content (dealing with profoundly unhelpful therapists) is sumptuous.

The opening triple play culminates with ‘Food For Fuel’, a simply gorgeous tune, playing with themes of  Pakistani Sufi Qawwali music and further anxiety inducing synths. There are distinct 80’s fingerprints all over this record, and it’s no surprise that Shah supported Depeche Mode on their recent tour: some of these tunes could come straight from the band’s Some Great Reward pomp.

Things are laid bare on ‘You Drive, I Shoot’, which is scintillating in its cinematic qualities, before kicking back into a gloomy synth-laden scape with ‘Keeping Score’. The words are dark and existential (“The world is on fire, Take one more good time”) and Shah’s voice is magical on these tunes, whilst the minimalist percussion and the 8-feet-high walls of synth grant her space to absolutely shine. She has a real knack for creating songs stacked with emotion: Shah is transmitting her feelings directly to the listener, and her soul-bearing is something to behold.  

‘Greatest Dancer’ is the centrepiece of this record, which is another fabulously Mode-y sounding number, where Shah depicts the lows of substance abuse through bizarre, Eyes Wide Shut style hallucinations borne out of watching Strictly Come Dancing in an altered state. It’s a monumental number: dark and relentlessly sad, yet stirring and tribal in its movements. When writing about such raw topics, it can be easy to wallow in self-pity, though Shah is vulnerable and open, she never strays into cliché.

‘See My Girl’ and ‘Twenty Things’ are two further cuts which hit the listener square in the chest with a sledgehammer of anguish: the latter is a love letter to those she met in rehab, not all of whom made it. 

Shah has created something unique here. Much of the more muscular, traditional rock themes present in Kitchen Sink have melted away, leaving in their wake an extraordinary, synth-driven portrait of vulnerability which manages to hold onto the light.

Review

Rating
8.5/10
Rating
8.5/10
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