On this, her sophomore album, My Best Friend Is You, Kate Nash tries frenziedly to capture the personality that made her one of the first British songstresses to hit the post-Lily Allen MySpace wave, which she rode to minor-hit status in the U.K. and the U.S. She signed to major-label subsidiary Fiction, which undoubtedly harmed her debut: She had to rush to finish Foundations in order to capitalize on her MySpace fame, and in that rush, she lost many of the characteristics that made her charming on her demos — the no-holds-barred self-confessions, the catchy piano-pop. So it’s no surprise, given the investment in Nash, that My Best Friend bears the same fruit as Foundations. Most of the album is over-produced, mushy-sounding girl-group affectations without any danger, hooks or defining character. All of which makes the rare riot-grrl turns Nash takes here all the more shocking.
My Best Friend is produced by former Suede frontman Bernard Butler, who was brought on after his bang-up work making the even less enchanting Duffy into your mom’s favorite singer. Butler’s retro-leaning production can be OK in small doses, but over album-length it begins to lose its novelty, with sub-Ronette tracks like “I’ve Got a Secret,” the flighty “Paris,” and lead single “Do Wah Doo” bleeding together into one long Phil Spector reference. Nash’s cockney accent fits that kind of production, though, since with little work most of the album could become the soundtrack for another remake of Alfie.
The strange thing, though, is that most of this album feels like a contract obligation, like Nash had to do those Diet Coke-commercial-friendly tracks in order to have the freedom to focus on what she really wanted to. In the time between this and her debut, Nash apparently discovered the buried riot-grrl movement and really wanted to make an album that fit somewhere between X-Ray Spex and Romeo Void. On “Kiss The Grrl” she growls about shrinking a female competitor, and on “I Hate Seagulls” she bitches about, among other things, seagulls. She drops her singing voice to cram syllables into the outro of “Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt,” and goes totally batty on the post-punky “I Just Love You More.” But all of that is just a teaser to “Mansion Song,” an absolutely awful but somehow riveting tone poem wherein Nash says “fuck” so many times George Carlin would have been embarrassed.
Those riot-grrl workouts don’t come close to saving My Best Friend, but they suggest that given some more time with the Bikini Kill catalog, Nash might come around to a sound that merges her poppier side with her punkier side. That could make for an interesting third album.