Why are record labels so reviled by their artists? Certainly not all musicians have issues with their labels, but it’s become almost a boilerplate narrative of the music industry wherein an artist gets a record contract, has some success, then gets pissed off by all the demands and constraints, and consequently makes a go of it on their own by self-producing an album on their own label.
Kate Nash doesn’t quite fit that profile, but her DIY work ethic was certainly present when she first used MySpace in 2005 to promote her music — which led to a recording contract. She’s had success in her native UK with the first two records, and should have been poised to keep her career on track for wider exposure, but parted ways with Fiction Records after the songs that comprise Girl Talk weren’t quite what the label was looking for (“too punky.”)
So, in a way, Nash turned to another variation of social media and produced Girl Talk with crowd funding money using PledgeMusic. Who needs record labels when you can go directly to your fans and say, “Hey, for this much money, I can record an album and you get an autographed copy.” Super fans clearly wanted to be part of the process, and Nash got the dough to make Girl Talk.
Alrighty then, without the filter of the label, how does the album stack up? Well for starters, if this album could have a subtitle, it would be “Anatomy of a Break Up.” Song after song, Nash goes through a number of stages of post-break up grief. There’s a kind of anger and confusion that’s expressed in the opening track, “Part Heart.” Then, it goes right into the more melodic, but still pissy, “Fri-end” whose hyphenated title clearly spells out the status of her relationship.
There are flashes of the pop sensibilities that Nash excels in — tucked in here and there — but for the most part this is one angry (and kind of crazy) album where Nash goes to the darker corners of her psyche. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing about anger, grief, heartbreak, and more anger, but there’s only so much of this note one can sing before it becomes overwhelming — and the return on the investment of buying and listening to this record starts to diminish.
However, all is not completely lost. Nash proves that she’s very adept at writing good hooks (i.e., “OHMYGOD!” “3AM,” and “Are You There Sweetheart?”), but more often than not, there’s too much that’s self-indulgent on this record. Yes, it’s on the mark to say that there are too many “punky” songs on Girl Talk, but the substance of these ditties come across more as someone throwing a temper tantrum than challenging the foundations of society. Indeed, by the time “Lullaby For An Insomniac” came around, I was exhausted by the experience. If it wasn’t for the hopeful-sounding orchestral 1 minute 20 second ride out that concludes the album, I’m not sure I could have prevented myself from putting my head in a gas oven. But one can have faith that Nash can move on from the dominant (and angry) note that pervades Girl Talk to musical territory that’s not so alienating.