Quirk is a risky thing to play with. If it’s not done in the right way or if it’s taken too far, it can seem insincere, gimmicky, or severely limit its longevity. Used in the right dose, though, little eccentricities lend personality, therefore helping listeners connect to the performer. It’s in this second group that you’ll find Made of Bricks, the new album by a charmingly idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter named Kate Nash.
With its rampant swear words, GarageBand beats, and stories of awkward situations, Made of Bricks is a modern album through and through, and Nash has a modern success story to go with it. After breaking her foot in a fall, she started tinkering around with an electric piano on a whim, to stave off boredom. She recorded a few tunes that she put up on MySpace, then contacted Lilly Allen through the social networking site. Allen, in turn, plugged Nash, whose perky pop quickly took off from there, with thanks due to other high-profile placements in minor and major outlets, from music blogs to the New York Times. When Made of Bricks debuted in England this past summer, it reached #1.
It’s not just the hype machine that’s responsible for her success — Nash’s songs are, by and large, infectious and silly, the kind of music that will induce a few chuckles in the getting-to-know-you phase, then settles in like an old friend. Sure, “Foundations,” her big hit about hanging onto a clearly doomed relationship — centered around a night where her boyfriend pukes on a new pair of sneakers — sounds ridiculous at first, but wait until listen number three, four or five.
Almost all of the 13 songs on Made of Bricks have some kind of quirk factor. Take, for example, “Dickhead,” where she uses the lines “why you being a dickhead for? / stop being a dickhead” as a chorus; “Skeleton Song,” about having a Skeleton for a friend; or “Mariella,” where she starts off singing about herself before launching into a story about a little girl who glued her mouth shut and only wears black. But Nash isn’t without seriousness or smarts, and it’s when she combines her whimsy with her wit that her talent asserts itself. “Mouthwash” feels like a less Hallmark-y version of Christina Aguilera’s self-empowering “Beautiful,” when she sing-shouts over a slightly staccato melody, “this is my body / and no matter how you try and disable it / I’ll still be here / and this is my mind / and although you try to infringe you cannot confine.” She continues to show confidence beyond the average 20-year-old with a rough dating history in “Merry Happy,” a good-mood tune about learning to be happy alone after a disappointing end to an otherwise pleasant relationship.
Ultimately, what makes Nash’s shtick appealing as opposed to irritating is her informal attitude. Made of Bricks is colloquial enough that each anecdote sounds like something directly from her life, and not a forced attempt at being cool. This is what being 20 is really like: awkward, flighty, and fun.