Smile Like You Mean It

Another chirpy Brit offers a slightly less narcissistic take on love gone sour

It's unfair to call Kate Nash the anti–Lily Allen, but "Foundations," the standout on Nash's debut, Made of Bricks, might just be the anti-"Smile." Allen's mocking schadenfreude on her own breakout hit gets steadily more poisonous because it's smeared with too much sunny, unproblematic, reggae-lite gloss—the kind of song that queasily reveals more about its fans than they think. That kind of grudge-bearing might feel good from the inside, but Nash is mature enough to realize it's still pointless and petty. So instead, when she sings, "And I know that I should let go/But I can't," her own relationship woes hit a little harder: She admits her own faults as well, and leaves unspoken her reasons for still not being able to walk away. Furthermore, she's honest enough to give you lines that reproduce the kind of dumbness that swamps young people with crushes.

Much of Bricks emulates that single's sound, a mix of piano and orchestral flourishes and clattery drum-machine backings, which along with Nash's charmingly full, slightly wobbly voice makes for a surprisingly durable sound. Blaring horns on the lusty "Pumpkin Soup" provide a late-album rush, but mostly she's comfortable with mid-tempo story-songs and the occasional painfully open ballad—"We Get On" and the later, more abject "Nicest Thing" sound about the same, and the candor ("I wish my smile was your favourite kind of smile/And I wish the way that I dressed was your favourite kind of style") makes you wince for her a bit. But Bricks is consequently more bracing and rewarding than most young-love-lost albums. "Dickhead" certainly suggests that the relationships our host does manage to have aren't exactly satisfactory; so far, Nash's work has the tang of someone wondering if that great love everyone sings about will ever happen to her. She shares Allen's cynical realism (there are plenty of horrible people out there), but Nash is less narcissistic and shows a lot more potential, with a definite eye for the grist of volatile romance. For now, we can happily settle for a great single and a solid album, but when she does fall in love, the result might just be messily epochal.

A struggling cynic still optimistic enough to wear polka dots
David Willsher
A struggling cynic still optimistic enough to wear polka dots

Kate Nash plays Bowery Ballroom January 9, boweryballroom.com.

 
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