Kate Nash Rekindles the Teenage Spirit on ‘Yesterday Was Forever’
Kate Nash uploaded her music to MySpace in the mid aughts, found herself producers and a manager, and went straight to selling out singles. Her distinctive voice and style have made her something of an icon, and she is loved for her signature blend of retro-informed, DIY, bubblegum pop and garage rock. She has taken up activist causes, challenged the music industry, and made a name for herself as an actress, most famously for her role in the Netflix series “GLOW.”
Her lastest project, “Yesterday Was Forever,” is partly inspired by her experience of looking back through her teenage diaries. Nash has described the album as, “your dreams being trapped in a time capsule, being caught in a moment for too long, and looking back through heart shaped glasses.” This could easily be nostalgic, sentimental blather — but it’s much more. All the qualities that characterize the teenage experience are actually the same qualities that characterize the adult experience; they’re merely held at bay or eclipsed by more immediately pressing, everyday concerns, subdued by the monotonous drudgery of daily life. Essentially, the forces that drive us are the same, and in moments of abandon, when people let their guard downs, they pronounce themselves more freely: restless craving for adventure, desire for acceptance and recognition, a struggle between insecurity and egotism, sexual energy, emotional volatility, and the neurosis that stems from it all. It’s a free pass to throw on some “adult contemporary” during the morning commute — something modest, diluted, adulterated — take a sip of coffee and get on with the day. After all, you wouldn’t want to get too taken in, too emotionally invested, too deeply reminded. But when it does happen, and when you relive all the intensity, madness, and excitement that it is to be human, it’s usually worthwhile. And on this note, thank heavens for Kate Nash.
The album opener and lead single is rock as catharsis, with Nash screaming, “What’s wrong with me?” with Courtney Love-level ferocity. The split syllables of “try-y-ying,” convey the feeling of tackling an onslaught one step at a time. The titular line, “Life in Pink,” is sung like an outlandishly cheerful la-la-la, panned and polished in the background, as Nash continues to scream, “I keep heart-shaped glasses close to me / for when it rains.” The little melody that follows is the very sonic representation of the color pink, sweet and simple, maudlin but restrained. The idea is effectively conveyed: donning sunglasses and a smile, and enjoying the wild ride.
“Call Me” starts with palm-muted guitar and immediately has a pop punk feel somewhere between the ‘80s and ‘90s. There are the Motown touches that have been a standard feature in Nash’s music since 2010’s “My Best Friend Is You.” The “ooh-woo” backing vocals in the chorus have a bit seemingly clipped from Frankie Valli and the Four Season’s “Walk Like A Man.” Nash repeats “call me,” first chirpily, then in the lower register, eventually in an impassioned howl, conveying the experience of emotions in real time. She continues this in “Take Away,” singing phrases with certain words bookmarked for screams. The way she sings the titular line recalls Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” She gleefully sings of getting Chinese take away and “a side of Pepsi too,” as if it’s the greatest thing in the world — presumably because it’s with the greatest person in the world. The sweet simplicity of the sentiment is delightful.
As one might expect, Nash’s teenage diary was full of high highs and low lows, and the songs capture the peaks and the troughs. “Hate You” bemoans the experience of being strung along, to a happy tune that builds to the punch line, “I really fucking hate you.” The line is pitched down, DJ Screw style, giving the feeling of muttering under your breath what you really mean. “Drink About You” is a stellar standout. It’s the type of song that paints wide grins on faces and propels bodies into motion in a flash, when the guitars shift into overdrive and the chorus hits. So much is this the case that even the hackneyed title, “Think About You” would have sufficed. But “Drink About You” is genius.
“Body Heat” delves into ‘80s R&B territory, with finger snaps, cowbells, and soulful vocals. Nash has always been about presenting the everyday unfiltered, unpolished, and raw. She has never affected an American English or a posh English one, but sung consistently in her natural voice and dialect, to such an extent that her music was chosen for an exhibition at the British Museum tracing the history of Cockney English. Her DIY approach and confident authenticity is largely responsible for her initial success and sustained appeal. Here, lyrics like, “Of course, coffee on my lucky shirt / Left my card at the bar last night,” are effective because they’re universally relatable. And then there are gems like, “You make my dopamine go fuckin’ so crazy.” If there ever was a better way to describe, in real terms, the rush of an infatuation, these lines have eclipsed it. Best lyrics ever.
“Karaoke Kiss” is summed up in its title. The song delves deeper into the ‘80s — standard Karaoke fare. The ‘80s, a decade-long celebration of bona fide garishness in music and fashion, lend a befitting sound to an artist who has always been above the constrictions of tastefulness. The album takes a dramatic turn with “Musical Theatre,” a stream of consciousness exercise, in which Nash narrates, “I check it for a pulse / But I can’t remember ABC correctly / one two three, one two three, one two three, count one two three.” Nash grew up with OCD, and had a mild relapse in 2008. This song captures the panic and intensity of such experience.
“California Poppies” is the heaviest song, featuring a raging ‘90s chorus in which Nash is equal parts screeching cat and crying baby. The ending, by contrast, is the most serene moment on the record, with Nash singing angelically, “California poppies are in bloom,” as reverb slowly envelops her. It’s the calm after the storm, albeit a short-lived one, as Nash descends into Alanis Morissette nasal shrieking on the following song, “Always Shining.” Another calm follows, with “Today,” in which Nash sings “Hey hey hey, it’s all right.” During the outro, the cheery melody is accompanied by a slightly lagging, discordant counterpart and sporadic dub interjections, foreshadowing the manic eruption of the next song, “Twisted Up,” in which Nash screams, “Now I’m at the beach / And I’m naked too / I’m dancing in the full moon.”
“My Little Alien” conjures a high school slow dance the way you always see in old movies — varsity jackets, prom dresses, and all. But of course, instead of “darling,” or something of the sort, Nash says “alien.” These are perfectly crafted pop songs, but tailored for the kookier ones among us — and that is what gives the music its special spark. In the final track, Nash sings, “Music is the only one / Music is by my side.”
If Nash had made this album in her teenage years, it would be another thing altogether. But to make it over a decade later, and still capture the spirit so perfectly is something remarkable. There will surely be some who instinctively dismiss the record as some silly, juvenile, girly fodder, but such reactions are likely little more than the mark of learned pretention and unduly assumed critical authority. The DIY, come-as-you-are nature of Kate Nash’s music has presented itself in defiance of such critique since day one, making such judgment all but irrelevant. Anyone with the vaguest idea of what Nash is about, and anyone who hasn’t completely lost touch with the spirit of their youth, is quite sure to find great pleasure in this record.
“Yesterday Was Forever” is available March 30 on Apple Music.